The goal of this project is to get computer science back into middle schools. The strategy is to reform middle school IT education at a systemic level exploring the notion of scalable game design as an approach to carefully balance educational and motivational aspects of IT fluency. The iDREAMS project (Integrative Design-based Reform-oriented Educational Approach for Motivating Students) is designed to spark an interest in IT through students' natural attraction to game design. The game design will involve the active process of students collaboratively engaging in problem solving, creativity, modeling and communication. Game design develops a rich set of skills consistent with STEM and IT competency frameworks such as the National Academy of Sciences Fluency with IT and the International Society for Technology in Education NETS standards. Scalable game design refers to a low threshold, high ceiling curriculum. This gentle learning slope curriculum allows students and teachers to quickly start with game design activities by producing simple classic games but then continuing to sophisticated games exhibiting artificial intelligence. The systemic aspect of this project explores an IT training ecology integrating four regions of decreasing affluence. The partners working on this project, CU Computer Science Department, School of Education, Science Discovery outreach program, and AgentSheets Inc, have already established collaborations in all four regions:
1. Technology-hub: Boulder, CO, featuring a high density of IT companies and education opportunities. The AgentSheets tool has already been introduced to all middle schools in the district because of its potential to address IT fluency and standards, equity, and motivation.
2. Inner-city: Aurora, CO, where an IT education pilot study exploring issues of universal accessibility regarding gender and ethnicity took place.
3. Rural: Pueblo, CO, southwest Colorado Board of Cooperative Educational Services, a 10,000 square mile integration of school districts.
4. Remote/Tribal: Ignacio, CO, and Oglala, SD, Native American reservations: Southern Ute, and Oglala Sioux. An existing mobile science lab will enable them to reach these areas.
The immediate objective is to provide teacher and student training in the four regions. The long-term objective is to create educational ecologies that integrate these regions. The program will employ existing programs including the CU-Boulder Upward Bound, Women in Engineering, and the High School Honors Institute to bring students to the technology-hub region and will work with community and tribal colleges to train local teachers.
While initial plans included certain schools in Colorado and South Dakota and a reach of about 1200 students, the project expanded to reach over 3500 students midway through the 3-year project. The results of the project in terms of broadening participation and learning outcomes so far have been very encouraging. The participation of girls and underrepresented communities has been astonishing. About 45% of our participants so far are female; 56% are non-white students. Most of the participating students surveyed (about 61% of the girls; 71% of the boys; 71% of white students, 69% of non-white students) indicate that they are motivated to continue with similar computing activities. Perhaps of more interest to the educational community is the innovative way of measuring learning outcomes and specifically Computational Thinking by automatically analyzing the games and simulations students submit, which shows initial indications of transfer of concepts from game design to computational science and other STEM fields.
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For more information, please visit the program website.
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