Crowd-Funding, Student Petitions Bring Computer Science Classes to California Districts

By Danielle Wilson — August 01, 2014 4 min read
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Securing the financial resources and personnel needed to offer coding and computer science classes in schools has been an ongoing challenge for many districts. This fall, four high schools in California will begin teaching those courses—largely as a result of student petitions demanding those classes, as well as crowd-funding campaigns to support the purchase of laptops and equipment.

Year-long Advanced Placement Computer Science courses will be offered for the first time to high school juniors and seniors at Northgate High in Walnut Creek, Castlemont High in Oakland, and Lincoln High and Leland High in San Jose, Calif. according to The San Jose Mercury News.

At Northgate High, the effort was pushed along by a student-led petition to start a computer science class. Students at the school also formed a science, technology, engineering, and mathematics club, according to the article.

At both Lincoln High and Castlemont High, several students who previously attended a “Girls Who Code” camp formed computer science clubs at their schools where they taught classmates how to code. They petitioned to create an AP Computer Science class, and the class instructors began efforts to raise money to pay for technology for the course, through crowd-funding.

Students at Leland High also approached administrators about bringing computer science studies to their school.

The addition of the AP Computer Science courses at Lincoln and Leland is just a part of San Jose Unified School District’s three-year rollout plan for a district-wide technology initiative. In a phone message to Education Week, Jackie Zeller, curriculum director for San Jose Unified, said an entry-level course, called Exploring Computer Science, will be added to a high school next school year. (See this recent blog post about the Chicago school system’s efforts to add similar courses.)

Zeller said middle school teachers are receiving training through the non-profit and the “Girls Who Code” organization is helping the district set up after- school programs for middle school students.

Teachers at Castlemont and Lincoln have created crowd-funding campaigns using DonorsChoose, an online charity that allows people to donate directly to public school classroom projects. Both are requesting money to purchase laptops and related items including protective cases and hard drives.

“I had a lot of friends that work in technology fields suggest [to me] that hardware would hold us back, [so] I chose DonorsChoose because it’s a known entity and people can donate in a secure space,” said Claire Shorall, AP Computer Science teacher at Castlemont High, which is part of the Oakland Unified School District, in an interview with Education Week.

Shorall said that many students have started purchasing laptops of their own for the class. The computers purchased from donated money will be loaned to students unable to afford one. Part of the preparation for the course included advising parents about low-cost Internet service at home.

To date, Shorall’s campaign has raised $7,879 for Acer laptops. Nancy Ureña Reid, the AP Computer Science teacher at Lincoln High is requesting $16,713 to purchase Google Chromebooks for her students.

Community Effort

Launching courses in those subjects creates other challenges for schools. Finding qualified teachers to teach the computer science and coding classes can be difficult. California does not offer a computer science teaching credential, and districts find it difficult to recruit tech professionals because schools are unable to offer competitive salaries.

Classes at both Castlemont and Lincoln will have the support of trained volunteers through Microsoft’s Technology Education And Literacy in Schools, or TEALS, program. The program recruits high-tech professionals and places them in high school computer classes, as part-time volunteers.

The volunteers will also be assisting the instructors by helping customize the AP course curriculum and format all the computers for student use. Shorall said she has also had offers from various people in the community willing to donate older computers that she can have refurbished.

Teachers and administrators at the schools believe the efforts to spawn computer science study is especially significant because of the potential to lure underrepresented minorities, such as blacks and Hispanics, into the STEM-focused fields. Teachers for the AP Computer Science course plan to supplement the curriculum with field trips and guest lecturers that will provide additional insight on STEM related careers for underrepresented minorities.

Prior to the adoption of this course, Shorall signed her students up for any outside camps or afterschool programs she could find that taught coding skills. Students were also encouraged to compete in local hack-a-thons. Shorall said those activities alone could not meet the demand of students.

“I think it’s important for students in Oakland to have this access to computer science,” Shorall said.

At Lincoln High, 25 students have enrolled in the course. Most of the students were recruited because of their previous experience with coding programs or hack-a-thons. Other students may not have computer programming experience but received high scores on math tests or enrolled in the AP Calculus course.

“I haven’t yet introduced a student to computer science that hasn’t been enthused by it,” Shorall said. “I feel like my work is really purposeful.”

A version of this news article first appeared in the Digital Education blog.