PITTSBURGH-Carnegie Mellon University's School of Computer Science (SCS) will host a summer institute on campus for advanced placement (AP) computer science teachers geared to learning and teaching the C++ programming language and developing skills to recruit and retain female students in the field of computer science.
The project is sponsored by Carnegie Mellon, the Intel Foundation and the National Science Foundation, which has given the university a $650,000, three-year grant to facilitate the program.
The Institute will be offered in two six-day sessions, July 6-11 or July 21-26, and will be offered again in 1998 and 1999. Each session will enroll 40 teachers. The project will pay tuition, room and board, reasonable travel expenses and a stipend upon completion of its follow-up survey. Teachers will learn skills to disseminate what they've learned to colleagues in their respective schools.
"This unusual collaboration between experts in computer science and gender equity issues will enable us to seamlessly interweave gender equity material with the presentation of technical material, helping institute participants to see how to use both together in their classrooms, " says project director Allan Fisher, SCS associate dean for undergraduate education.
In 1999, the Educational Testing Service will change the programming language used in its AP computer science test from Pascal to C++," Fisher says. "Most of the nation's nearly 1,500 AP computer science teachers will need to seek training and teaching techniques for the new language and its object-oriented style of programming. This is a good opportunity to find the best way of teaching it to girls.
"Girls get involved with computer science later and slower than boys. People tend to confuse ability with those who show an interest earlier. We need to address students' ability when they enter rather than on their experience.
"The proportion of American girls and young women pursuing computing is dismal," he adds. "Only 16 percent of high school AP computer science test takers are female, and only 18 percent of CS majors at the top university computer science departments are women. This disparity of representation has negative impacts on the national technical workforce, on the future development of computer science and on the economic opportunities available to women.
Fisher explained that some of this is due to the fact that we're working in an environment that fails to recognize the differences between male and female students' preferences.
"The good news," he says, "is that teachers can learn to intervene against these influences in favor of gender equity."
Fisher and three other instructors will staff the institute. On the technical side is SCS senior lecturer Mark Stehlik, who has taught programming since 1980 and has been involved in the CS AP program since 1983. He has been instrumental in the move to C++.
Jo Sanders, University of Washington professor and author of "Lifting the Barriers: 600 Strategies That Really Work to Increase Girls' Participation in Science, Mathematics and Computers," has taught gender equity practices to thousands of teachers since 1983. Her insights will be augmented by those of social scientist Jane Margolis, SCS visiting research scientist and an expert in gender issues in education. She and Fisher have been conducting a Sloan Foundation-funded study of undergraduate women in computer science.