Catching up with CSforPGH

What’s new in the effort to build a more equitable and inclusive future for computer science education in the region? Catch up on the latest with CSforPGH lead LaTrenda Leonard Sherrill.

LaTrenda Leonard Sherrill / photo: Ben Filio

LaTrenda Leonard Sherrill / photo: Ben Filio

Remake Learning is built on the belief that cross-sector collaboration is the best way to tackle the massively complex challenges and opportunities that we face. As part of its ongoing work to provide a supportive infrastructure for this collaboration, Remake Learning convenes and coordinates working groups that take a collective deep dive into specific regional priorities that no one organization can impact alone.

CSforPGH is the Remake Learning working group focused on computer science education. LaTrenda Leonard Sherrill has led CSforPGH since its inception. Over the past year and half, LaTrenda has worked with CSforPGH stakeholders to define a regional vision for computer science education and activate that vision through collaborative projects.

At the #CSforInclusion event you hosted back in June, Dr. Nichole Pinkard spoke about the intersections of computer science education and equity efforts. What key takeaways did Dr. Pinkard offer that everyone needs to hear?

Dr. Pinkard came all the way from Chicago to be with us, so first and foremost I want to share my appreciation for her being with us here in Pittsburgh.

The title of her talk was Making Visible a Community’s OST Learning Towards Equity.

Among the biggest takeaways for me was the need for more data about kids’ interest in computer science. If we’re really going to be inclusive and intentional about computer science education, we need to know where students are in terms of their interest in the subject, where that interest is built up, and where it falls off. I’m not sure our region has a good enough grasp on this.

Dr. Pinkard has been a leader in inclusive computer science education for years. She traced data about youth engagement in computer science back through initiatives like Cities of Learning that Pittsburgh was a part of a few years ago and showed how efforts like that and the use of digital badges have an effect on young people’s interest.

Also, it’s clear to me from the event that people want to learn more about inclusion practices in general. We can talk about equity, we can talk about who has access, but the practical actions we have to take to include people is the real problem to solve. People want more opportunities to dig into this.

Together with members of the Remake Learning network, you attended the Pennsylvania Computer Science for All Summit in late June. What did you learn in Harrisburg about plans to support computer science in the Commonwealth?

It was nice to meet a lot of educators from across Pennsylvania, all focused on computer science. We met lots of out-of-school educators, other regional networks like CSforPGH, corporate foundations supporting the work, and counselors guiding students to futures in computer science. Everyone was there, all talking about the state’s plans for computer science—what’s happening, what’s working, and what’s not.

The biggest takeaway was the need to have more conversations between education policymakers and labor and industry representatives. We’re missing a huge system connection opportunity. Even at the state level, this was highlighted clearly. Our region can be helpful with that: even though we have a long way to go before we figure it out, we’re ahead of the curve compared to most other parts of the state.

In terms of what’s next, Governor Wolf is continuing Pennsylvania’s commitment to STEM education, including computer science, through another round of PAsmart grants, increasing the funding by $10 million to offer a total of $40 million in PAsmart funding. This means more schools will have opportunities to fund their expansion of STEM and computer science learning.

What’s CSforPGH working on now?

We’re putting the finishing touches on our CSforPGH Index, an online collection of tools and resources that support and reinforce computer science learning that’s already happening in classrooms and learning spaces.

When I talked with members of CSforPGH, a lot of them noted that they lacked a place to go for instructional tools. There’s plenty of curriculum, but no one place where they can go to find hardware and software that can help them support learning in their classrooms.

In addition to showcasing the tools, we’ve also sourced educator feedback on everything in the index, so we’ve got local educators’ honest thoughts on what it’s like to actually use these things. There are tons of little tips like “Make sure you keep the battery charged on this, because it runs out of juice quickly.” Practical insights like that make a huge difference.

We also just added an accessibility element to note when things have been adapted to meet the needs of students with learning differences.

We’re working to align the index to the Pennsylvania Computer Science Administrator Toolkit that’s coming out next month, so keep an eye out for both.

If you had to sum up how far CSforPGH has come, where it is right now, and where it’s headed, what would you say?

CSforPGH kicked off at the Inclusive Innovation Summit in April 2018. We spent some time developing a shared vision and way of working. We branded ourselves and decided on a first set of projects. We published the CSforPGH Quickstart Guide. We led the #CSforInclusion conversation. We’re finalizing the CSforPGH Index. We’re really happy about where we are and next, we want to go a bit deeper in terms of engagement with our partners and members.

This next 18 months, we plan to host a big, marquee event for computer science in 2020. We’re still figuring out what we want to talk about, but we know we’ll be focusing on inclusion. We really want to bring a major conference for computer science education to our region.

Also, we’re in the planning stages of a grant program to catalyze projects inspired by the Quickstart Guide. We’re raising $50,000 to award small grants that challenge people to take a program from the Quickstart Guide and do something with it. We want to catalyze the use of that guide so it doesn’t just sit on the shelf, but actually gets put to use.

And we’re planning to open the CS Learning Lab. I’m super excited about this. It’s going to be a cohort of out-of-school learning organizations going deeper in their computer science learning practices. We’re still working out the details, but it will include some professional development to support instructional practices, accessibility, scaling, and collaborating with school districts. We’ll have more to say towards the end of 2019 and then we’ll really make it happen in 2020.

What should people do if they want to learn more and get involved with CSforPGH?

The best thing to do is keep tabs on and sign up for the CSforPGH newsletter. That’s how you’ll hear about upcoming meetings, projects, grants, and other ways to get involved.
And if you’re a Twitter user, tag us into the conversation with #CSforPGH!

Published July 26, 2019