WSU Tri-Cities creating new computer science training program for teachers

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New program receives financial support from OSPI, PNNL

Washington State University Tri-Cities plans to develop a program to train teachers in computer science.

The program received a $49,000 grant from the state Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction and a matching contribution from the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory in Richland.

Jonah Firestone
Jonah Firestone

Currently, there is no teaching endorsement program at any universities in the state for computer science, which makes program development in the subject increasingly important in today’s advancing technological society, said Jonah Firestone, WSU Tri-Cities assistant professor of teaching and learning and campus lead on the grant.

“The state of Washington has pushed to have at least one computer science teacher at every school who has an endorsement in the subject,” Firestone said. “Up until now, it was usually a math or science teacher who also had an interest in computing that would serve that role. But we need to take that further and offer an endorsement in the subject in order to best prepare our teachers.”

The first phase of the grant funds, he said, will pay for the development and offering of workshops with teachers from five districts that include Kennewick, Pasco, Richland, Prosser and Othello. 

The workshops, which are being developed by WSU Tri-Cities and PNNL and will be taught by PNNL computer scientists this spring, will provide training on computer science concepts and skills and for designing computer science curriculum.

The money also will go toward stipends for participating educators.

Firestone said there will be a combination of teacher recruitment for the program and recommendations from districts for current instructors who would immediately qualify based on their roles in schools.

“We’re looking at teachers who are already in technology classes, plus we’re working with our contacts at the local science, technology, engineering and mathematics schools to inquire about teachers who would qualify and be interested,” he said.

Judy Morrison
Judy Morrison

The second phase of the grant entails the analysis of data collected over the course of the workshops, which will then be used for the development of a computer science certificate program for educators. 

Firestone and Judy Morrison, associate professor of teaching and learning, will co-lead the project. Together they will analyze the workshops and develop the certificate program.

Firestone said the certificate program will combine education courses with computer science courses.

“Classes on the content are not enough,” Firestone said. “We have to have classes on how to teach this material to the kids.”

WSU Tri-Cities is the only university in the state selected for the grant program. Twenty-four other districts, schools and nonprofits also were selected for the program, which will use the money to train teachers, provide and upgrade technology, and expand access to girls, students from underrepresented populations and communities who have historically been underserved. The grants awarded to higher education institutions across the state total nearly $1 million.

“We are very grateful to OSPI for presenting this opportunity and to PNNL for providing the in-kind matching funds that will go toward the program and their time in working with us on this endeavor,” Firestone said. “This grant is allowing us to get this program started and off the ground. This is stage one of a multistage process.”