Rural Education Project Lands $999,751 Grant

Bringing computer science and computational thinking to rural school districts is the goal behind the iCS4All project, which the NSF recently awarded a $999,751 grant.

The project, named Integrating the Computer Science for All Initiative in Three Rural Eastern NC School Districts (iCS4All), will be led by principal investigator Matt Militello, the ECU College of Education’s Wells Fargo Distinguished Professor in Educational Leadership, co-principal investigator Martin Reardon, assistant professor in education leadership, and include partnerships with the ECU Department of Computer Science, and the Friday Institute at NCSU.

Militello said the project will begin by instructing the middle school teachers in Sampson, Jones, and Duplin counties how to bring computer science and computational thinking into their classrooms through a Massive Open Online Course (MOOC) developed by The Friday Institute.

Computational thinking is a problem-solving process that uses methods like finding patterns in data to create solutions using a series of ordered steps or algorithms. Militello said this way of thinking is primarily used in computer sciences, but can also be used to support problem-solving across all disciplines—including art and music.

“Often you think of art and music as devoid of that kind of thinking,” Militello said. “We are taking computational thinking to places that really don’t have access to this and disciplines that aren’t usually discussed in terms of computer science.”

By using things like math games and other activities to encourage students to think about finding patterns to determine solutions, Militello said there will be both short and long-term benefits for the students, teachers, and parents.

“If you look really long term one of the things we are doing is turning them on to careers that are a little abstract…especially in a rural setting,” he said. “Also, having them exercise their brains in different ways and across disciplines will help them with the big tests like the ACT or SAT that determine if they get into colleges.”

Militello said the teachers will have access to top tier professional development opportunities and the students’ parents will be engaged to validate and sustain the iCS4All project at home and in the future.

The iCS4All project is scheduled to begin in early October with planning sessions to implement the project in the partner school districts.

The National Science Foundation is an independent federal agency created by the U.S. Congress in 1950 that supports basic research and people to create knowledge that transforms the future, and was created “to promote the progress of science; to advance the national health, prosperity, and welfare…”

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