Fisler Leads National Workshop for Computer Science Teachers

Contact: WPI Media Relations, 508-831-5706

Worcester, Mass. - September 9, 2002 - How do you improve the computer science skills of incoming college students? Encourage better teaching techniques in high school courses. That was the mission of Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI) assistant professor Kathi Fisler this past summer.

In July, Fisler led 20 educators in a free week-long workshop on better curricula for teaching introductory computing. The workshop was held at Brown University in Providence, R.I., and was jointly run by Fisler and her research collaborator Shriram Krishnamurthi, a computer science professor at Brown. It presented a new, design-oriented curriculum complete with textbook and programming environment.

The workshop was part of the TeachScheme! Project, a multi-university effort to improve introductory computing curricula. The techniques presented in the workshop are being applied in high school and college computer science, math and science courses. The Project has developed several innovations for introductory computing curricula, such as program design recipes, which gently guide beginners through the entire process; and DrScheme, a pedagogic programming environment designed to make programming easy and fun.

The TeachScheme! Project began in 1996 at Rice University in Houston in response to the increasing numbers of students starting college with prior yet weak computer science training. It arose from two observations: first, that traditional introductory curricula rarely taught solid design foundations; and second, they failed to engage the broadening group of students interested in computer science, for many of whom programming should be a powerful tool to study other disciplines. The Project founders (who included Krishnamurthi) decided to take their new approach directly to high schools by reaching out to teachers.

Fisler has been a TeachScheme! instructor since 1997, when she was conducting postdoctoral research at Rice. During her five years in the program she has typically guided between 20 and 40 teachers through the annual summer workshops. Fisler and Krishnamurthi began offering workshops at Brown last year.

Since 1996, TeachScheme! participants have responded enthusiastically, with more than 100 high schools, as well as several universities, adopting the curriculum. Each summer, workshops host approximately 80 teachers from around the nation and the world. Besides Brown University, Adelphi University, Northeastern University, and the University of Utah also host TeachScheme! workshops.

The TeachScheme! team currently has a three-year, $1.9 million grant from the National Science Foundation to support the project. The funding supports development of the software and teaching materials, as well as the summer workshops. All materials, the software, and the workshops are free of charge to teachers (the project pays travel, housing, and food expenses for the high school teachers; there are no registration fees). Supplementary funding from corporate and non-profit organizations helps sustain the free workshops, and WPI contributes graduate credits to teachers who complete the program. The team welcomes sponsorship from other organizations.

For additional information about the workshops or the curriculum, visit the Project's Web site at www.teach-scheme.org.

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