Marquette receives $1 million NSF grant so Milwaukee teachers can earn certification to teach computer science

October 3, 2016

MILWAUKEE — Marquette University has received a $1 million National Science Foundation grant that will lead to thousands of Milwaukee Public Schools students learning computer science.

Marquette will administer the grant for nearly 200 MPS teachers to receive certification to teach computer science, enough to provide computer science instruction in each MPS school.

"This is another great opportunity for our city's schools to work together toward the region's future," Marquette President Michael Lovell said. "Area business leaders tell me frequently about their need for people with high-level computer skills that this initiative will surely help create."

Marquette is partnering with MPS, the Wisconsin-Dairyland chapter of the Computer Science Teachers Association and the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee Computer Science Department.

"Our goal is to ensure all of our students have the skills they need to succeed in the workforce," said MPS Superintendent Dr. Darienne Driver. "Partnerships such as this allow us to provide new opportunities for our students to learn more about computer science as a career path."

"This grant impacts thousands of Milwaukee students by giving them the opportunity to enter a growing field where high paying jobs are plentiful," said Dr. Richard Holz, dean of the Helen Way Klingler College of Arts and Sciences. "As a Catholic and Jesuit university, a key goal is to make an impact in our community, and this helps fulfill that important mission."

Marquette will host professional development workshops in the summers of 2017-19 for the teachers to become qualified to teach computer science.

"We should have enough teachers trained to cover every high school, middle school and elementary school in MPS," said Dr. Dennis Brylow, an associate professor of computer science at Marquette who is a collaborator on the grant.

The new grant provides funding to certify 75 MPS elementary school teachers and 54 MPS middle school teachers. A total of 45 high school teachers will learn how to teach a beginning computer science course, and 45 high school teachers will be in a pipeline to earning a license to teach more advanced courses. (Some of the teachers in the pipeline likely also will receive instruction on teaching beginning courses).

"Like most school districts, one of our greatest challenges in expanding our computer science offerings is recruiting teachers who are state certified to teach advanced classes," said Eric Radomski, MPS senior manager of career and technical education. "This grant provides our current teachers the opportunity to expand their skills and move toward gaining their state certification."

"Computer literacy is no longer optional," said Dr. Marta Magiera, an associate professor of mathematics education at Marquette who is also a collaborator on the grant. "Every student needs the opportunity to learn computer science in a way that allows her or him to make sense of today's digital world, as well as create and construct with technology."

Currently, computer science is taught in 10 MPS high schools. A $1 million, three-year NSF grant to Marquette in 2013 provided instruction to certify about 80 Wisconsin teachers, and about 16 were MPS teachers.

"It's about equity," Brylow said. "When students don't have an on-ramp to this career, they don't know they are missing an opportunity to get into this high paying, impactful field. We need to build more on-ramps."

MPS has a course in Advanced Placement Computer Science Principles at North Division High School. Five MPS high schools are offering Exploring Computer Science and two high schools are offering Introduction to Computer Programming. Both Reagan and Rufus King high schools offer International Baccalaureate DP Computer Science courses.

A total of 36 MPS schools participate in Project Lead the Way, a program focused on preparing the future technical and engineering workforce. Twelve of those schools offer coursework in computer science.

During the three-year grant, the Computer Science Teachers Association will provide recruitment and support, and network with other teachers.

UWM will provide undergraduate students to mentor MPS students in after-school clubs focused on computer science, and will provide online versions of the courses the teachers need to receive their licenses.

Students from Milwaukee's North Division High School Academy of IT won "Fan Favorite" at the Lenovo Scholar Network National Competition at a conference in Orlando this year. The North Division students' teacher, Melissa Menge, has participated in Marquette's teacher training programs, and had Marquette undergraduate student mentors visiting the classroom each week in the spring.

The winning "Emoji Encouragement" mobile app provided words of encouragement for children with health issues and those with low self-esteem when they would choose emojis that relate to their current state of mind.

Last year, students from Washington High School of Information Technology also won the same award for their "WHS Bowling" app, which gives users the chance to aim for strikes and spares at a virtual bowling alley while they receive rotating messages encouraging positive behavior. The messages also discourage bullying and texting while driving.

The students take part in Washington High School of Information Technology's National Academy Foundation IT Academy, which includes seven IT courses. Washington is one of only 10 U.S. high schools to win a mobile app development program through NAF and Lenovo.