UT Austin's Thriving in Our Digital World Aligned with CS Principles

UT Austin's Thriving in Our Digital World Aligned with CS Principles


Last Monday, the White House announced a number of commitments to broaden participation in K-12 computer science education nationwide. In a press event designed to kick off Computer Science Education Week and increase exposure to the Hour of Code initiative, President Obama asserted that more than half of available STEM jobs will be in computer science fields within five years. The President advocated for programs designed to rapidly train 25,000 individuals to teach computer science and increase access to relevant coursework for K-12 students.

More than $20 million in philanthropic contributions will be used to train this corps of computer science teachers by Fall 2016, primarily in preparation for a new Advanced Placement (AP) exam expected to be offered by the College Board for the first time in 2017. In addition, three districts near UTeach partner programs -- Houston, Miami Dade, and Los Angeles Unified -- are among 60 that have made public commitments to increasing computer science offerings for 4 million K-12 students.

Directly aligned with CS Principles -- the emerging national standard for computer science curricula and framework on which the new AP exam will be based -- The University of Texas at Austin’s Thriving in Our Digital World is recognized as one of only two complete curricula currently aligned with CS Principles. Bradley Beth, a 2003 UTeach alum and former AP computer science teacher in Dallas ISD, has been involved with the NSF-funded project since its inception in 2011:

“The course isn’t like traditional computer science courses that focus on teaching programming through lecture. It’s designed to engage students in authentic computational thinking and collaborative problem solving using project-based instruction. We focus on current areas of research among real-world computer scientists -- like Big Data, artificial intelligence, digital manipulation, and data security -- and we do it using inquiry-based approaches designed to engage students who typically don’t take computer science. Our goal, first, is to increase access to rigorous computer science instruction in high schools, particularly among girls and others who typically are under-represented in STEM, and second, to address the shortage of secondary computer science teachers.”

Now in its third year of implementation, more than 700 students across 21 high schools in Texas have enrolled in Thriving in Our Digital World, and 27 educators have been trained to teach the course. In partnership with OnRamps, a dual enrollment initiative at The University of Texas at Austin, teachers are trained in intensive, eight-day professional development institutes each summer and provided regular and on-demand support throughout the year.

Initial data indicate that the course attracts a more diverse student population than is typical of traditional computer science courses. In fact, 29% of all enrolled students are female, compared with the 19% enrolled in AP computer science courses nationwide in 2013. About 31% are Hispanic, and 7% are Black, compared with only 8% and 4%, respectively, nationwide. Up to one-third qualify for free or reduced price school lunches.