UF receives $5 million to help low-income K-12 students learn computer science

The Gainesville Sun | By Stephanie Matat | November 3, 2021

The University of Florida will help develop computer science education programs for teacher preparation across the state using a $5 million gift announced Wednesday.

Ken Griffin, the founder and chief executive officer of Citadel, gave UF one of four parts of a $20 million gift going to universities to implement CSforED, which is an initiative focused on increasing high-quality computer science education.

The announcement was made by CSforAll, which is the central resource that includes CSforED, at the DEI Innovation Summit. This summit was presented by Snap Inc., which is the company that developed the social media platform Snapchat. 

The $5 million gift will be used to build an online community for teachers across the state to learn about computer science education, for materials and resources to teach these technical and instructional strategies and for materials to help teachers prepare for and pass the Florida Teacher Certification Examination to teach computer science, said Maya Israel, a UF associate professor in educational technology. 

Israel said the development of programs to help teachers become certified to teach computer science will help increase accessibility to computer science education for lower-income students, since children from more affluent communities predominantly had access to this education. The materials are also meant to broaden participation in computer science for female students, students who are in a lower socioeconomic class and for students with disabilities.

“When students are engaged with technology in meaningful ways or are creating things that are motivating them, it captures their creativity and their learning becomes really relevant,” Israel said. 

Schools can’t offer computer science without a trained teacher, said Lisa Milenkovic, the curriculum supervisor for STEM and computer science at Broward County Public Schools. She said she’s excited about the $5 million gift since it will help develop training materials for their teachers to pass the certification exam. 

Initially, Broward County would train its English or media teachers in computer science instruction, but it’s not the same as having college-level or graduate-level content for computer science, Milenkovic said.

“They don’t know Java programming,” Milenkovic said. “They’re good teachers, but they don’t have foundational knowledge.”

The university will also be working with multiple computer science education leaders across the state, such as northeast Florida’s STEM2 Hub, which is an organization that produces resources and advocates computer science education and training.

In 2018, former Gov. Rick Scott signed HB 495 into law, which required computer science to be taught in middle and high schools throughout the state. However, lots of schools had a hard time offering computer science because of the shortage of teachers who are eligible to teach it, Israel said. Because of that, UF developed a teacher certificate program in computer science education and later launched a master’s program to help teachers get certified in computer science education. 

The development of the online community and the resources for the program will be led by Israel in a phased rollout throughout the next few years. The first meeting to begin the process is Nov. 19.

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