New curriculum entices girls to computer science

first_imgAddThis ShareCONTACT: Lia UnrauPHONE:(713) 348-6778EMAIL: [email protected] CURRICULUM ENTICES GIRLS TO COMPUTERSCIENCELessTinkering, More Problem Solving Draws Females, Minorities The TeachScheme project, under theleadership of Professors Matthias Felleisen and Robert “Corky” Cartwright ofRice University’s Department of Computer Science, has tackled a new angle of theproblem of interesting females in computing: the technology itself.The alarmingly low participation of females in ITprofessions and in computer classes has been reported by several organizations,including the American Association of University Women (AAUW) and the ComputingResearch Association. The AAUW report on girls and computer education calls forcultural changes in how computer science is taught. According to Felleisen, overthe past few years, people have tried to address this issue as a purely socialproblem. They attempt to solve the problem with workshops for teachers on how todeal with girls in classrooms on an equitable basis.“Our curriculum addresses many of the AAUW report’ssuggestions due to its methodological approach and focus on programming as atool in real-world problem solving from first course,” computer scienceinstructor Kathi Fisler explained.Felleisen and Cartwright began offering the newcourse at Rice in 1993. Since then the number of women in the coursedramatically increased from a few to several dozen. In 1997, Felleisen begantraining high school teachers in the use of the new curriculum. These teachersreport the same observations. The curriculum is more attractive to women thantraditional C++ based approaches.Cartwright and Felleisen conducted two interestingexperiments in which the same teacher instructed the same group of students inboth the conventional and the new curriculum. Karen North, a teacher at ElsikHigh School in Alief, Texas, observed that female students preferred the newcurriculum at a ratio of four to one. David Archer from the El Paso, Texas,school district, made a similar observation and found that the new curriculum isextremely appealing to minority students.“TeachScheme’s emphasis on design and de-emphasis oftinkering have radically changed the way computing is introduced to students.The students no longer see computing as a random tinkering activity or as a gameof survival of the most persistent, but as a systematic activity whose elementshelp with subjects such as debate, poetry, science and journalism,” explainedFelleisen.North agrees, “Girls like to understand the processand do it. We’ve found that girls don’t like the conventional C++ curriculum,because they don’t like that much tinkering around.”Shriram Krishnamurthi, the project’s outreachcoordinator, observed “TeachScheme is iconoclastic. Computer scientists wouldlike to teach principles, but so much of existing curricula is noise and dust.TeachScheme routes around this entirely, so students build gems of applicationsin just one semester.”TeachScheme workshop information is available at read more