Teacher with students in a classroom on laptops

University of South Florida (USF) professor Michael J. Berson, PhD, is partnering with Virginia-based nonprofit CodeVA and math-science nonprofit TERC on a multi-year research project to broaden middle school students’ participation in meaningful and culturally relevant computer science instruction during their history classes.

The project, “An Interdisciplinary Approach to Supporting Computer Science in Rural Schools,” will develop a computer science program for teaching history to underserved middle school students in the state of Virginia. The project is supported by a four-year, $2.99 million grant funded by the National Science Foundation’s (NSF) Discovery Research PreK-12 (DRK-12) program, and was developed as part of a national push to increase computer science K-12 literacy and participation in computer science-related fields and industries among underrepresented and minoritized student populations.

Michael J. Berson, a Professor of Social Science Education, will serve as co-principal investigator for the project. He and Ilene R. Berson, a Professor of Early Childhood Education who will also contribute to the project, have collaborated on groundbreaking international research in digital citizenship and cybersecurity for students that has informed global policy and practice.

“We have an opportunity to build upon our ongoing research with young children that has informed our instructional approaches to foster transversal competencies with tangible coding technologies,” Michael J. Berson said. “A project-based approach to geohistorical teaching and learning can provide a range of opportunities for students to investigate and apply computational thinking and problem-solving skills within the context of projects that are of ‘real world’ interest.”

The research project aims to broaden access to meaningful computer science instruction for students in rural areas across Virginia by using techniques such as modeling and simulation to allow students to explore historical events from multiple lenses and by providing sustainable training and resources on culturally relevant teaching techniques to support history teachers statewide.

The project will be conducted in collaboration with TERC, an independent research-based nonprofit organization focused on science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) education, and CodeVA, a nonprofit that partners with schools, parents, and communities to bring equitable computer science education to all of Virginia’s students. CodeVA’s state-funded training programs have served approximately 3500 teachers since 2014 and focus heavily on building schools’ capacity to provide basic training to their faculty, enabling them to meet Virginia’s computer science education mandate.

“This exciting project supports a more inclusive understanding of history by allowing students to explore and bring to life key concepts using CS and computational tools,” said Bryan Wallace, CodeVA’s education community manager and principal investigator for the project.