College of Education and Human Development - George Mason University

College of Education and Human Development

Improving Perceptions

October 26, 2021

By Jerome Boettcher

Shruti Sanghavi’s excitement extended beyond just personal gain.

For the Prince William County Public Schools mathematics teacher, her selection into George Mason’s computer science teacher externship partnership with Amazon and the Maryland Chamber Foundation marked the opening of more doors for her high school students at Independence Nontraditional School.

“My hopes and dreams are to share these career opportunities in computer science with these students,” said Sanghavi, who received her master’s degree in education leadership from Mason in 2019. “A lot of them love computer science… but they’ve never thought they could be anything but whatever their parents are.”

Sanghavi was one of 20 public school teachers from middle schools and high schools in Washington, D.C., Maryland and Virginia to participate in the externship this past summer. The externships allowed teachers to shadow Amazon professionals virtually, witnessing firsthand the type of work they conduct on a daily basis. The aim was to give teachers a glimpse of potential careers for their students, particularly those in underserved communities and from Title 1 schools that serve low-income students.

In addition, George Mason Secondary Education Assistant Professor Erdogan Kaya in the College of Education and Human Development (CEHD) taught a virtual three-credit course entitled “Project-Based Learning in Computer Science” over a six-week period.

In the class, teachers developed a problem-based learning lesson plan, implementing design thinking by focusing on emerging computer science concepts such as robotics, cybersecurity, or artificial intelligence, particularly machine learning algorithms, including voice and video recognition. The course also featured equity and inclusion modules.

Though the course was offered asynchronously, the teachers completed daily online journals about their experiences and were offered the option to meet weekly in-person for lab hours on the Fairfax campus.

“We focused on emerging technologies, not only in traditional computing,” Kaya said. “We talked about the importance of big data, cloud computing, artificial intelligence. In addition to cloud computing, we also talked about the importance of cybersecurity because of Virginia’s location and need for cybersecurity. We also talked about physical computing and Amazon uses autonomous robots to deliver their products on time. Those were some of the important topics in the classroom and they all aligned well with the externship experience and the project-based learning for the STEM classrooms.”

The teachers were chosen based off varying levels of experience with computer science education, including some who had little to no experience of STEM or computer science.

Professor Amy Hutchison, who serves as the division director for the Division of Elementary, Literacy, and Secondary Education in CEHD, noted that the program received positive feedback from the selected teachers. She reported that a higher percentage of teachers planned to not only teach computer science but they felt secure and believed they could be successful in teaching computer science after completing the externship. They also gained more self-confidence in teaching computer science and understood the value of teaching the field after the externship.

“I think it was really successful,” Hutchison said. “Teachers’ perceptions improved in a lot of areas, the perceptions of their abilities, just their understanding of computer science, how to teach computer science. All were much more positive after participating in this [externship]. The teachers had really positive things to say about the program. I think for a first iteration of this it was actually pretty incredible.”

Building off the success of the externship, the teachers have stay engaged within their externship professional learning communities to connect their experience to their classroom instruction. Hutchison and Kaya are also offering workshops through the fall for the selected teachers. More than half of the externship participants have signed up for the workshops, which will prepare them to take the praxis exam in order to become licensed to teach computer science.

“We are directly contributing to the number of teachers who will now be licensed to teach computer science,” Hutchison said, “which is incredibly important because there is a huge shortage of highly qualified teachers in this area.”