WATCH: “A game changer for teachers!” How this computer science program is helping students learn math and science

By Cory McCauley, Building Kentucky

Inside the library at Mount Washington Middle School, the atmosphere is quiet and still. Books sit neatly on shelves, and the sounds of soft clicks on a keyboard fill the air. It is what you would expect for a Wednesday morning, except here – students are doing the unexpected.

“When I say, ‘We’re going to be doing drones today,’ my kids get so excited and are very zoned in on what we are doing in class that day,” said Aleshia Edwards, a sixth and seventh grade math teacher at Mount Washington Middle School.

Quickly the sounds of typing on a keyboard are drowned out by the buzzing of multiple drones flying throughout the library. The students are the pilots.

Edwards is a participant in the new Teach Tech Kentucky program. Created by the Ohio Valley Educational Cooperative (OVEC), Teach Tech Kentucky teaches elementary and middle school educators how to incorporate computer science and computational thinking lessons into their existing curriculum.

“We are trying really hard to apply as much of this as we can to math, which it’s very applicable, because mathematicians, they need to be able to find the structure in these patterns and use reasoning to figure out what they should be doing with the technology,” said Edwards. “It’s really cool to see my students think outside the box.”

Drones are one of multiple pieces of technology provided by OVEC to teachers in the Teach Tech Kentucky program. Funded by a $4 million Education Innovation Research (EIR) grant through the U.S. Department of Education, this hands-on learning is changing the way students’ approach, engage with and learn math and science.

“When we talk about math, we know as teachers that they are learning algorithms and how to solve problems, and I think our student don’t realize that the work they are doing is connected to computer science,” said Travis Whitworth, a fourth-grade teacher at Cedar Grove Elementary School. “When students are learning computer science and step-by-step processes, it really is no different than learning how to do long division.”

Teach Tech Kentucky is an innovative approach taken by OVEC to address the shortage of computer science teachers in Kentucky.

“We’ve not graduated a computer science teacher from a public college or university in the past five years,” said Alicia Sells, Director of Innovation for OVEC. “There is a huge demand for computer science professionals and not enough talent to meet the demand.”

As technology booms and computer science skills become necessary for most jobs, Sells says Teach Tech Kentucky ensures students receive the education necessary to be ready for the future job market. Though the program aims to benefit students in the future, for teachers, the benefits are more immediate.

Participating teachers in Teach Tech Kentucky will earn a $4,050 stipend, which can be applied toward a micro credential rank change program helping them earn a rank change at no cost to them.

“I’ll be honest, for me, I just didn’t have a desire to go back to the college setting,” Whitworth said. “The thing I like about this program is you’re learning a lot of things that you are going to use in your classroom.”

Teachers can expect to devote about 10 to 15 hours per month to the program, spread across virtual and in-person activities, in addition to instructional time in their classrooms. The program will take about one school year to complete.

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