President Obama's Computer Science For All Initiative Includes Program Created by WPI and Brown University

Bootstrap, a program developed by faculty at WPI and Brown University, will support a new White House initiative to enhance access to computer science education and will train 300 additional educators to teach computer science.
January 30, 2016

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The White House announced today a major nationwide effort to bring computer science education to all students across the country, noting that computer science skills are considered "a new basic skill necessary for economic opportunity and social mobility." A computer science curriculum developed in part by faculty at Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI) and Brown University will play a role in the initiative.

Bootstrap is a middle- and high-school curriculum in which students learn key concepts in computer programming and algebra in the process of creating their own video games. Bootstrap creators are also using the program to help train math teachers in computer science education. In support of the White House initiative, Bootstrap will partner with two other computer science education programs, Exploring Computer Science (ECS) and CS:Principles, to prepare an additional 300 middle- and high-school educators to use Bootstrap and other computer science curricula.

The work is of critical importance, as implementing computer science courses in schools poses a significant challenge: Few middle schools and high schools have computer science teachers on staff, and few states offer teacher certification in the area. (Also, school districts often must compete with higher-paying private sector employers in recruiting computer science professionals.)

This July, Bootstrap, ECS, and CS:Principles will sponsor CSPdWeek, a professional development workshop to be held in Colorado, where 300 teachers will be trained to use curriculum modules developed by all three organizations. The organizers hope the intensive five-day workshop—the first of its kind—could ultimately help bring high-quality computer science education to as many as 10,000 students nationwide. The event will be held in conjunction with TeachCS, which provides funding support for teachers to attend professional development programs around the country, and the National Council for Women in Information Technology (NCWIT), which supports programs aimed at broadening the participation of underrepresented groups in computer science.

"Bootstrap is committed to providing evidence-based CS curricula to teachers across the US, with the goal of empowering all students," said Emmanual Schanzer, Bootstrap co-director. "For us, CSPdWeek is a chance to continue this mission, and to work hand in hand with other great curriculum providers in the community."

Because the Bootstrap pedagogy is familiar to math teachers—it uses a step-by-step approach to solving word problems, albeit in the context of programming a simple video game—it's "a gentle introduction to computing for math teachers, who already exist in every school," said Kathi Fisler, WPI computer science professor and Bootstrap co-director. The Bootstrap curriculum starts with a training module that is appropriate for math teachers who have no prior computing background, and eases them into computing, at their own pace, while leveraging their deep experience as teachers.”

"Bootstrap harnesses kids' love of video games and uses it to teach not only critical computer coding skills, but key concepts in algebra as well," said Shriram Krishnamurthi, a computer science professor at Brown and co-director of Bootstrap. "The skills that students learn are surprisingly sophisticated: not only basic programming but also event-driven programming, testing, participating in code reviews, and more. These are usually thought of as skills acquired in the workplace, but we're teaching them to middle- and high schoolers."

Bootstrap and its forebears began nearly 20 years ago and the curriculum is now used in hundreds of schools across the country. Curriculum provider recently began offering a curriculum based on Bootstrap nationally. Computer literacy advocate CSNYC is bringing Bootstrap to schools throughout New York City. (Read more about how Bootstrap works in the classroom here and learn more about current research here.)