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Published November 19, 2018
Forty Wyoming teachers -- spanning all grade levels and content areas -- worked with experts at the University of Wyoming last summer to gain new ideas and abilities to incorporate concepts of computer science, computational thinking and cybersecurity into their classrooms.
The cohort participated in Robotics, Applied Mathematics, Physics and Engineering Design (RAMPED) II, a cross-disciplinary professional development program led by Andrea Burrows, an associate professor in the College of Education, and Mike Borowczak, an assistant professor in the College of Engineering and Applied Science.
The program includes a two-week summer camp that occurs on the UW campus, as well as follow-up participant collaboration days that take place during the school year. RAMPED II is supported by a U.S. Department of Education grant that is administered by a Wyoming Department of Education Math and Science Partnerships grant. The grant began its second iteration in summer 2018.
“When the K-12 teachers explicitly call out pieces of computer science, they are showcasing computer science as a possible career while creating a space for K-12 students to practice computational thinking skills,” Burrows says.
K-12 teachers who participated in RAMPED II will have the skills required to promote computer science and computational thinking to their students and dispel the myth that computer science is just coding, creating video games or robotics, she adds.
“As a new teacher, I feel it is my role and responsibility to teach our students 21st century skills,” says Laura Paige, a science teacher at Centennial Middle School in Casper. “This is an area of development for me, and I felt RAMPED II provided an outstanding opportunity for professional development and collaboration.”
“I enjoyed looking at computer science as a whole way of thinking and really digging into how it permeates every aspect of our lives,” says Victoria Davis, a math and science teacher for grades K-8 at Kaycee School.
The professional development comes at a time when Wyoming is developing computer science standards for the state as outlined in Senate Enrolled Act 0048, which passed in the Wyoming Legislature during the 2018 budget session. The act adds computer science and computational thinking to the state educational program. School districts are mandated to offer computer science in K-12 classrooms at the beginning of the 2022-23 school year.
“The state of Wyoming is moving toward a graduation requirement that includes computational thinking and coding,” says Christy Rodgers, an engineering design teacher at CY Middle School in Casper. “My students will have a jumpstart toward that because of my advance preparedness.”
The legislation does not include funds to support hiring new teachers or creating new courses. RAMPED II specifically showcased ways the teacher participants could integrate computer science and computational thinking principles into their existing science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) classrooms. In the future, this integrated approach could allow school districts to meet the new requirements without the financial burden of hiring additional teachers or creating new stand-alone courses to cover the material.
The program was divided into four sessions: machine learning, anomaly detection, large distances and virtual reality. The teacher participants not only learned about these elements, but they began to develop ways in which they can incorporate these concepts in their daily lessons, regardless of the grade level or subject area they teach. Additionally, the teachers participated in daily K-12 integration sessions.
“Our faculty team asks teachers to bring the main topics that they teach and has them identify areas of strength and weakness in those topics,” Burrows says. “We then showcase computer science and computational thinking in activities and, as a team, we brainstorm real-world applications embedded in the areas of weakness identified by the teachers. With faculty and lead teacher support, the teachers then create lessons utilizing the suggested real-world computer science applications.”
Participants used micro:bits, low-cost open source computers that are half the size of a credit card, to assist with learning about computer science and computational thinking, and to practice writing computer code.
They also participated in beacon and lock-pick activities using the micro:bits to simulate the world of interconnected devices in which we currently live. Both activities were created by UW faculty and graduate students to emphasize the cybersecurity concepts in computer science.
During the beacon activity, teachers programmed a micro:bit to seek out and capture information broadcast from beacons. The lock-pick activity was similar but, instead of random information being broadcast, the lock responded to a set of strict commands. To view a video of the lock-pick activity, go to http://bit.ly/uw-lockpick.
As part of the follow-up to the program at UW, Burrows, Borowczak and two lead teachers obtain feedback from the RAMPED II teachers when they implement lessons in their classrooms that they developed during the summer camp. The RAMPED II leaders then assess the K-12 teachers on the implementation of their lessons and advise them on any improvements they can make.
Although the focus is on teachers’ understanding and use of computer science and STEM content during RAMPED II, Wyoming students are the real beneficiaries of the professional development, Burrows says.
With well-prepared teachers, Wyoming’s K-12 students have the opportunity to explore STEM and computer science in meaningful experiences that can help them pursue careers in new industries that assist in diversifying the state’s economy. These experiences also can allow them to apply their computer science knowledge to solve problems in the industries that have driven Wyoming’s economic engine for decades, Burrows adds.
“Computer science knowledge, computational thinking skills and programming skills are predicted to be a part of just about every job in the future,” Borowczak says. “Our world is headed toward automation, and the only way to control automation is through programming, computational thinking and computer science.”
To view the lessons and activities presented at RAMPED II, go to http://bit.ly/RAMPED-labs.
The RAMPED II teacher participants and two lead teachers, listed by their hometowns, schools, subjects taught and grade levels, are:
Bar Nunn -- Tanya Harris, CY Middle School, math, grades 6-8.
Bondurant -- Karin Unruh, Bondurant Elementary School, kindergarten, fourth and fifth grades.
Buffalo -- Timothy Brown, Clear Creek Middle School, science, grades 7-8; and Karmen Marbry, Kaycee School, science, grades 9-12.
Casper -- Colleen Burridge, Pathways Innovation Center, social studies, grades 9-11; Derek Green, Star Lane Center (Pathways Innovation Center), computer science, grades 9-11; Mance Hurley, Pathways Innovation Center, welding and advanced manufacturing, grades 10-12; Mark McAtee, Roosevelt High School, science, grades 9-12; Laura Paige, Centennial Middle School, life science, grades 6-8, Sustaining Wyoming’s Advancing Reach in Mathematics and Science (SWARMS) scholar; Ruby Perry, Fort Caspar Academy, fourth grade; Sarah Ramsey, Roosevelt High School, science, grades 10-12; Christy Rodgers, CY Middle School, engineering and manufacturing, grades 6-8.
Centennial -- Claire Ratcliffe, UW Lab School, technology, grades K-4; STEM, grades 5-6; and innovation by design, grades 7-8.
Cheyenne -- Ginny Margolis, Hobbs Elementary School, first grade.
Cody -- Rachel Holmes, Powell Middle School, math and life science, seventh grade.
Evanston -- Adrienne Unertl, Clark Elementary School, computer science, grades 2-5.
Gillette -- Keith Jacobson, Westwood High School, science, grades 9-12; and Trish Kuberra, Campbell County High School, science, grades 9-12.
Guernsey -- Tesha Frederick, Guernsey-Sunrise Schools, Title I math; and Connie Hollin, Guernsey-Sunrise Schools, computer science, grades 5-12.
Kaycee -- Victoria Davis, Kaycee School, STEM, grades K-5; science, grades 6-8; and math, seventh grade.
Laramie -- Douglas Brenneman, Laramie Middle School, industrial arts, grades 6-8; Scott Mecca, Albany County School District 1, districtwide tech integrator and RAMPED II lead teacher; and Anna Youmans, Indian Paintbrush Elementary School, technology and library skills, grades K-5.
Midwest -- Cheryl Anderson, Midwest Junior High School and Midwest High School, math and science, middle school; and science, high school.
Pinedale -- Gregory Allen, Pinedale Middle School and Pinedale High School, choir; Clare Rutar, Pinedale Middle School, engineering, design and robotics, grades 6-8; Cheryl Travis, Pinedale Middle School, computer science, grades 6-8; and Jennifer Wilson, Pinedale High School, special education, English language arts, and job and career readiness, grades 9-12.
Powell -- Bryan Bonander, Powell Middle School, math and science, sixth grade; Randi Bonander, Southside Elementary School, third grade; Patrick D’Alessandro, Southside Elementary School, kindergarten; Heidi Dicks, Southside Elementary School, lab manager; Astrid Northrup, Northwest College, engineering and practical surveying; thermodynamics; and dynamics/mechanics; and RAMPED II lead teacher; and Shelby Randall, Westside Elementary School, first grade.
Rawlins -- Mark Flaherty, Carbon County Higher Education Center, welding; and Rebecca Haynes, Rawlins High School, English, grades 9-12.
Riverton -- Theodore Robinson, Shoshoni Schools, STEM, grades 1-5; and math, sixth grade.
Saratoga -- Janet Jorgensen, Rawlins High School, chemistry and physical science, grades 9-12.
Shoshoni -- Nicole Biltoft, Shoshoni Schools, library paraprofessional; Shawnna Gibbel, Shoshoni Elementary School, second grade; and Mark Maxson, Shoshoni High School, physical education and health.