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New Mexico State University

New Mexico State University

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NMSU graduate fellows and local teachers to implement computer science in classrooms

A $1.5 million grant from the National Science Foundation will enable New Mexico State University and Las Cruces Public Schools to integrate the problem-solving tools of computer science into local science classrooms.

The program committee chose four eligible graduate fellows and four teachers to implement the program. Work on the project began at the start of the fall 2010 semester.

The three-year grant, awarded to the NMSU Department of Computer Science, will fund the GK-12 Discover Science through Computational Thinking, also known as DISSECT program, which will pair up graduate fellows with local teachers to integrate computer science and computational methods into local public schools through traditional sciences.

"Computational thinking enables students to develop their problem-solving skills by using computers in building solutions," said Computer Science Department Head Enrico Pontelli. "This project will push our local schools into a new dimension, providing students with new tools to succeed and new sources of excitement and engagement."

Under the direction of Pontelli, Computer Science Professor Jonathan Cook, NMSU Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics Outreach Program Director Susan Brown and Program Coordinator Jessica Haebe, students and teachers will join together to create new educational tools and methodologies to help local students from kindergarten through high school gain confidence and develop mature problem-solving skills.

By working in the classroom at least once a week next semester, GK-12 fellows will assist Las Cruces teachers in building student interest in science, technology, engineering and mathematics with an emphasis on computer science. By incorporating computational concepts such as robotics applications to physics and engineering, as well as infusing computational thinking and computational methods in traditional STEM classes at the middle and high school levels, the program aims to increase the teachers' effectiveness in STEM coursework.

"Teaching science and computer science in this way puts students on the cutting edge of the science fields," Haebe said. "Computational problem solving is a very important skill. We live in a world in which all science has become computer science."

NMSU fellows working on the grant include Bethany Cook from the Department of Biology and Michael Harris, Jharrod LaFon and Ben Wright from the Department of Computer Science.

Las Cruces science teachers involved in the program are Mary Lessman of Lynn Middle School; Paulo Oemig of Zia Middle School; Jeri McDowell and Beth Rewalt, both of Mayfield High School.

"This program is a great opportunity for us to give back to the Las Cruces community," Haebe said. "It's also a great way for our graduate students to get some real-world experience, and to get young students interested in the sciences."

Participating graduate fellows will receive a one-year, $30,000 stipend, as well as funds for educational expenses. Teachers will receive a one-year $5,000 stipend for participating in the program. Participating teachers also will receive training on how to use computational methods in their classrooms as well as the opportunity to work side by side with domain experts from different areas of computer science.

For more information about the program, please visit http://www.cs.nmsu.edu/gk-12.