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Professors Gain Federal Grant to Study How Computer Science Impacts Learners and Schools

Funding is the largest grant award Sacred Heart has ever received

Professors Darcy Ronan and Cenk Erdil Professors Darcy Ronan and Cenk Erdil hold a Code.org workshop at Sacred Heart University's West Campus.

Sacred Heart University, in partnership with Marquette University in Milwaukee, WI, will provide computer science professional development for more than 500 elementary school teachers through an extensive, five-year project that involves the largest grant in Sacred Heart history.

An initial $2.1 million from the U.S. Department of Education will fund the first three years of Project {FUTURE (FUndamentals Teachers Unit Research Exemplars)— Innovations in Embedded Computer Science for Elementary Curricula. The only awarded proposal from Connecticut in the national Education Innovation & Research (EIR) competition, Project {FUTURE} will expand access to computer science education for thousands of K-5 students through teacher professional development.

“Teachers have opportunities and challenges in integrating computer science in the elementary school,” said Darcy Ronan, assistant professor in SHU’s Isabelle Farrington College of Education, who is directing Project {FUTURE}. “This project has the potential to yield significant research contributions in the field of computer science education at the elementary level. We are honored to be selected and excited to do this project.” SHU faculty co-directors on the Project {FUTURE} team are STEM education professor Bonnie Maur and D. Cenk Erdil, assistant professor of computer science in the Jack Welch College of Business & Technology.

In Connecticut, the project will include 18 elementary schools from Bridgeport and New Haven public schools and those in the Cooperative Educational Services (CES) region, which includes various suburban and urban schools in Fairfield County.

The full five-year, $5.1 million project is expected to culminate in research-backed model curricula and tools for integrating computer science concepts in elementary content areas from math and science to literature and social studies. The overall budget includes federal funds totaling $3.8 million, contingent upon Congressional appropriation. In addition, $1.3 million in matching funds and in-kind donations will come from Code.org, a national nonprofit that aims to make computer science a “fundamental literacy” in the 21st century. Sacred Heart and Marquette University are the official Code.org partner institutions in their respective states.

In the initial years, Project {FUTURE} will implement Code.org’s Computer Science Fundamentals through professional development workshops and ongoing support for all K-5 teachers. The team will lead location-specific coaching and curriculum mapping. Plans will differ because every school is unique, Ronan said. “The goal is to better understand how professional development translates into student experiences and what building-level factors are involved in shaping an elementary computer science program.”

In its culminating phase, Project {FUTURE} will pull together a Connecticut cohort of 50 teachers to develop, pilot and evaluate curriculum units embedding computer science in other content areas. The children will use both “unplugged” computer science activities and digital tools developed by their teachers. The project will study how children develop skills in both computer science and the target content area.

The project will occur in parallel in Wisconsin, impacting thousands of students in the Milwaukee Public Schools. In addition to the SHU faculty, the Project {FUTURE} team includes Dennis Brylow of Marquette University and Esther Bobowick of Cooperative Educational Services in Trumbull. Project {FUTURE} is one of 41 funded projects nationwide, chosen from over 250 submitted proposals.