CSC News

September 17, 2012

Tapestry Workshop Weaves Collaboration Between High School Educators and College

While the definition of tapestry refers to a woven piece of fabric that depicts a story or specific scene, the word is often used to describe an intricate combination of things or sequence of events. At NC State, a workshop called Tapestry brings together high school teachers and college level computer science faculty, to explore the intricate combination of motivating and educating high school students about computer science.
“With the more diverse population that we are seeing in high school today, educators have realized that it is critical to promote computer science classes,” said Dr. David Wright, NC State computer science alumnus and Tapestry Workshop organizer.  “In particular, our focus is on females and under-represented minorities, getting them interested and excited about the field of computer science.”
The workshop originated out of the University of Virginia and is funded by the National Science Foundation (NSF). While it has been held for the past several years on that campus, it is now in its second year of funding satellite workshops around the country to broaden its audience.  Additional funding support for the NC State Tapestry Workshop was received by the National Center for Women & Information Technology (NCWIT), the Computer Science Teachers’ Association, SAS Institute, Inc., the NC State Computer Science ePartners Program and the NC State Engineering Foundation.
“High school computer teachers are mostly teaching Advanced Placement computer science and the students taking the advanced placement classes aren’t going to take prerequisite computer sciences classes,” Wright said.  “Through the Tapestry Workshop, we explore how to present these prerequisite computer classes to our diverse populations in hopes of sparking their interest in the field.”
The approach for signing up students for classes is notably different than years before, Wright said, with teachers actively marketing their classes to students through informational booths and other promotional activities.
“Through Tapestry, we help teachers develop strategies to attract students to their computer science classes,” he said.  “A big part of the strategy is to show students that computer science is fun and that it is much more than just programming.”
Changing their mindset is also important, Wright said, so that they think about what classes will benefit them the most as they consider secondary education.
“One of our speakers at the workshop talked about the fact there are shortages of computer science graduates at the college level to meet the marketplace demands,” Wright sad.  “Our message to students, school administrators and parents is that this is a great field to get into in terms of job availabilities.”
With that in mind, students need to realize that computer science experience is something that college recruiters are looking for as well, Wright said.
“Even if they don’t plan to go into computer science, it is critical to have some background experience in the subject and it is almost becoming a requirement to have AP Computer Science on your high school transcript when applying for college,” he said.  “Students need to think about the fact that taking AP Computer Science is probably going to help them more in the long run than AP Biology or AP Chemistry.”
So, just how is this tapestry of knowledge woven together among high school teachers from across the United States in just a few days?  Through the intricate coordinating of Dr. Wright, a team of speakers is assembled and an agenda is formed so that every second of the short time that the educators are together, they are learning from experts and brainstorming new ideas to market the field of computer science to their students.
“We had 28 teachers attend the three day workshop and the feedback from our first year of doing it at NC State was very positive,” Wright said. “We had two teachers participate that had attended the original workshop and their experience with Tapestry was very interesting. They taught at D-level schools that didn’t even have AP Computer Science and within three years, several hundred kids were taking computer science courses and 80 to 90 percent of the kids were scoring high on the AP exam.”
And as for the success of the workshop, the results speak for themselves. Anonymous evaluations came back with high marks and comments such as these:
These workshops provide so much to take back to the classroom…. The strategies for diversity recruitment, teaching and retention provided by the workshop were great. As important however, the networking opportunities provided link each of us into a community of computer science teachers/professionals knowledgeable and excited about what we teach and how to best to deliver that knowledge to our students.”
“I can't stress enough how valuable this workshop is to high school teachers. The community that is created and the knowledge shared gives us a larger knowledge base to draw from as we teach our students. Examples range from the specifics such as logic problems and SNAP examples to the theoretical such as gender recruiting statistics and pair programming concepts.”
So now that the threads of this great tapestry of knowledge have begun to be woven into the fabric of school systems across the country, will this masterpiece stop now or keep adding scenes depicting the future of computer science?
“I definitely think it is worth continuing, just the history of the workshop shows it is having an impact on teachers that attend it,” Wright said.  “This year we had funding from the National Science Foundation, so in the future we will need to secure other funding to keep this going.  It is a proven and effective way to get more students in the pipeline for computer science and it is also a great recruiting tool for NC State for future computer science majors.”

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