Educators form western Massachusetts group to support computer science teachers

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Teachers of computer science and information technology in western Massachusetts will soon have their own local network for professional development and community. With the support of the Commonwealth Alliance for Information Technology Education (CAITE), based at UMass Amherst, about 30 computer science educators gathered in Holyoke at the Massachusetts Green High Performance Computing Center on Friday, Aug. 16, 2013 to form a new chapter of the Computer Science Teachers Association (CSTA).

CSTA's mission is to "provide opportunities for K12 teachers and students to better understand the computing disciplines and to more successfully prepare themselves to teach and learn," according to Karen Lang, a CS teacher from the Massachusetts Academy of Math and Science in Worcester and a member of CSTA's national board, who spoke at the meeting. Leaders of CSTA-Greater Boston and CSTA-Connecticut chapters, also present, said that because computing teachers may be alone in their schools, chapters are an extremely valuable way to connect with other teachers.

The new group expects its chapter to be approved this fall. Members have already volunteered to contribute in their own ways--from offering training in robotics and Scratch, to providing meeting rooms, to making connections with other chapters and statewide groups working on computing education policy reform. The first bimonthly meeting targeted for late September or early October.

“Teachers in the Greater Boston chapter have really helped raise the profile of computer science education in Massachusetts,” said Rick Adrion, professor emeritus of computer science at UMass Amherst and director of CAITE. “Since CAITE helped launch that chapter in 2010, they have gone on to offer several professional development workshops, and two of their members have won major teacher awards in the past year. After the CSTA conference in Boston in July, we sensed a critical mass existed in western Mass. to help create a new chapter here.”

Since 2007, CAITE has worked with 15 public higher education campuses across the state to broaden participation in computing. Through outreach activities, academic support, and improvements in transitions from high school to community colleges and four-year universities, the number and diversity of computer science majors has increased. CAITE’s work is now reaching beyond Massachusetts and deeper into K12 education through a new project, the Expanding Computing Education Pathways Alliance (ECEP). In addition to previous outreach efforts at UMass Amherst and Springfield Technical, Holyoke, and Greenfield Community Colleges, CAITE/ECEP’s recent western Massachusetts work included a Coach Connect LEGO Robotics workshop and an App Inventor Bootcamp held in Holyoke this past summer.

All this activity comes at a good time, as buzz about the need for students to learn computing skills has been increasing in Massachusetts and nationally. This year’s Massachusetts STEM Summit, slated for November 13 at Gillette Stadium, will feature several panels about computing education, organized with support of the Massachusetts Computing Attainment Network (MassCAN). In cooperation with MassCAN and other groups, CAITE/ECEP looks forward to working with the computing educators in western Massachusetts to support computing education opportunities for all students.

For more information about CSTA, visit csta.acm.org. Individual membership is free. To request information about the western Massachusetts chapter, send your name, school, town, and email address to: caite@cs.umass.org. For more information about CAITE and ECEP go to: www.caite.info and www.ECEPalliance.org. For more information about MassCAN go to: masscan.net.