SPARK!, U.Va. Collaborate on Computer Science Institute

In July, the St. Anne’s-Belfield School SPARK! computer science program collaborated with the University of Virginia (U.Va.) Curry School of Education and Department of Computer Science to offer 55 local educators a two-day Computer Science Institute. The participating educators represented 15 different private schools, public school districts, after school programs, and post-secondary schools.

“We’re really excited to be partnering with SPARK! computer science for the Institute because we feel it’s really important to help teachers be able to integrate CS into their classrooms,” said Jennifer Chiu, associate professor of education at the Curry School. 

The partnership between the Curry School, the U.Va. Department of Computer Science, SPARK! and local non-profit Tech-Girls, founded by St. Anne’s-Belfield School computer science coordinator Kim Wilkens, has been growing for several years. 

“We’ve really been able to create a very collaborative ecosystem for computer science,” noted Chiu. 

During the Institute, participants took part in a one day “Learn-A-Thon,” with each electing to attend three workshops hosted by volunteers from Albemarle County Public Schools, Boolean Girl, Computers4Kids, the Data Science Institute at U.Va., St. Anne’s-Belfield School, Tandem Friends School, the U.Va. Department of Computer Science, the U.Va. Curry School, the Virginia Department of Education, and the Virginia Society of Technology Educators (VSTE). Topics ranged from “Robot Petting Zoo” to creating weather station arduino projects to music and coding. 

Dr. Luther Tychonievich of the U.Va. Department of Computer Science served as the Institute’s keynote speaker and presented on a cognitive approach to an inclusive classroom, allowing participants to learn how to teach computer science in an accessible way. 

“We want more students to have access to computer science,” said Wilkens. “We want to see this field grow, and grow with more representation of females and minorities. One way to do that is to get more educators on board to bring computer science into their classrooms.”

In addition to learning new skills, educators worked together on creating lesson plans infused with computer science to take back to their students. 

“Unless you’ve been specifically trained in CS, computer science can seem really daunting and scary,” said St. Anne’s-Belfield School librarian Sarah FitzHenry, who took part in the Institute as a workshop presenter as well as attendee. 

“I think the coolest thing that SPARK! does is to take CS and break down the barriers and demystify it. It shows that not only can every teacher do it, but most are doing it already and don’t even realize it. Teachers here at the Institute will go home feeling more confident and empowered, and it means that more students will have access to computer science in their classrooms.”

Photos from the Computer Science Institute are now available on the School's SmugMug account


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