District receives $35,000 targeted computer science grant


The district received a $35,000 targeted grant for computer science from the Pennsylvania Department of Education in January. 

The grant will be used for the creation of an after-school computer science and robotics program at Tredyffrin/Easttown Middle School for 5th and 6th graders. Set to begin next school year, the program will run in a similar fashion to a club and will focus on promoting involvement in computer science among underrepresented groups.

“We have a really robust computer science program at the high school but we’re working to grow the middle school program. Our grant targeted girls, students of color and English-language learners, so we really want to try to recruit those populations who we think maybe we miss sometimes in computer science,” curriculum supervisor Nancy Adams said.

Adams wrote the grant application with Director of State and Federal Programs Oscar Torres in December, and will work with Teacher on Special Assignment for Technology Lisa Lukens as well as teachers Colleen Johnson and Erika Lucas to implement the program. The grant was reviewed and approved by the Pennsylvania Department of Education as a part of the PAsmart workforce development initiative. 

“This grant helps both students and teachers. It’s used to provide training to teachers so they teach the critical skills that students need to succeed in the workforce. And it provides students with the instruction they need to develop the knowledge and skills to work in these in-demand jobs,” said Eric Levis, press secretary for the Pennsylvania Department of Education. 

Grant funds will be dedicated to training teachers to run the program, purchasing devices such as iPads to code with and providing transportation to and from the program. Instructors will teach coding concepts using programs like Scratch and Blockly, two block-based visual programming languages targeted towards younger audiences. In addition, the district hopes to purchase more Ozobots and Sphero Bolts — small, student-friendly robots that the district currently uses in the elementary and middle schools — for the program.

“The idea is to introduce (younger students) to coding, computer science and computational thinking in a super non-threatening way. We think they’ll like it and it’ll encourage them to take future courses (in these areas),” Adams said. 

In the future, Adams believes that the role of not only computer science but also computational thinking, which is stepwise logical problem-solving similar to how computers function, will expand in the district’s curriculum.

“Right now we mostly have people (who) are looking for courses to teach them how to code, or for example, AP Computer science principles (which) sort of teaches the processes of computers, but I really think that computational thinking and computers will underline more and more of our courses as we move forward,” Adams said. “My goal would be to have all students feel comfortable using computers and knowing what they can do. That, I think, is a 21st-century skill.”

Tredyffrin/Easttown Middle School principal Andy Phillips hopes the program will encourage continued engagement in computer science at T/E Middle School and within the district.

“As educators of the future workforce of America, we are always looking for ways to involve student-groups who are typically underrepresented in the field of computer science. Hopefully, this sparks an interest and passion for continuing their education in this and other STEM areas,” Phillips said.