PHILADELPHIA -– The University of Pennsylvania has received a three-year, $600,000 grant from the National Science Foundation to spur interest in computer science with a first-of-its-kind, “cascading” mentoring program in which college, high school and middle school students will learn with and from each other.
The new service-learning computer science course in Penn’s School of Engineering and Applied Science will be integrated with the teaching and mentoring of high school and middle school students. Undergraduates will learn about educational theory and computational thinking, receive training on instructing K-12 students and will teach and mentor high school and middle school students in coordinated summer workshops and after-school programs. The high school students will also work with the middle schoolers.
“This learning-by-teaching approach will improve all of the students’ understanding of computational thinking and purposes by exposure to a variety of hands-on software design activities and materials,” Susan Davidson, principal investigator and chair of the Department of Computer and Information Science at Penn, said.
A key component of these programs will be the use of a media-rich programming environment called Scratch as well as computational textiles. The design and use of these technologies for education has been the focus of the research of Yasmin Kafai, co-principal investigator and professor in Penn’s Graduate School of Education.
The course leverages Penn’s ongoing efforts to increase interest in engineering, as well as outreach to women and minorities through programs such as Advancing Women in Engineering.
Women make up approximately 30 percent of Penn’s School of Engineering and Applied Science incoming class each year.