CAITE Marks Computer Science Education Week with Local School Activities

CS Ed Week Robot with Pin

Hundreds of elementary, middle and high school students and many at colleges and universities across Massachusetts are taking part in classroom and after-school activities this week to observe Computer Science Education Week, Dec. 5-11, a nationwide effort to raise awareness of the importance of computer science education.

The White House Office of Science and Technology Policy issued a fact sheet on Monday in support of "computer science for all" and Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker issued a proclamation urging citizens to participate in events and observances.

At UMass Amherst, the College of Information and Computer Sciences' Commonwealth Alliance for Information Technology Education (CAITE), with the Massachusetts Technology Leadership Council (MassTLC) Education Foundation, are partnering once again this year to provide teachers with materials and ideas for activities, says Renee Fall, CAITE project manager.

"Events include anything from participating in the national online tutorials through 'Hour of Code,' to designing a Web page, teaching a computer to sing and programming a robot, along with 'unplugged' activities that don't require a computer. They can be quite creative," Fall says. "Some schools are devoting class time and some are offering after-school activities."

The week recognizes computer pioneer and 1944 graduate of Smith College's Naval Reserve Midshipmen's School Grace Hopper's birthday on Dec. 9, 1906, and encourages educators nationwide to plan activities for students to elevate computer science education at all levels.

Fall says that although computer science is often thought of as a college-level or high school subject, most schools that requested kits are elementary and middle schools. "In the past few years, educators have recognized that young children can learn foundations of programming through visual and blocks-based tools. Kids love it and they are doing more than playing video games," she adds.

CAITE's work for CS Ed Week, now in its seventh year, promotes and supports teachers with kits that include a poster and buttons, among other items. Massachusetts has been among the states with the highest participation in CS Ed Week for several years, Fall says, with this year no exception as more than 800 events are planned throughout the commonwealth.

Students from UMass Amherst's College of Information and Computer Sciences (CICS) will work with students during the week. At Liberty Elementary in Springfield, Rick Freedman, a fifth-year computer science Ph.D. student, is now in his third year assisting instructional technology teacher Melissa Zeitz during the week of activities she has organized. On Thursday, Dec. 8, they and UMass Amherst volunteers will take part in coding-related activities and talk about the world of computer science in Zeitz's class.  

On Friday, Dec. 9, as part of a week of activities, teachers at Amherst Regional Public Schools plan an Hour of Code in two classes, one at the high school taught by Nathaniel Woodruff, the other at the middle school taught by Jennifer Wellborn. At the Amherst school events, UMass Amherst Distinguished Professor in CICS, Jim Kurose, assistant director of computer and information science and engineering at the National Science Foundation, will be a guest of honor.

Kurose says, "It's critical that all students in our country have access to rigorous and engaging computer science education opportunities. CS Ed Week spotlights the amazing CS education activities going on nationwide and the increasing opportunities for access in local communities around the country. It's great to be able to visit and experience firsthand the exciting local classes and programs here in the Valley. It's a tremendous honor to spend time with students to see the impact of these efforts."

For more on CS Ed Week, follow Twitter #CSEdWeekMA