New program at Purdue aims to build computer science skills of future high school teachers

October 13, 2009 Kim Schoonmaker

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. — Purdue University is contributing to a national effort to train prospective secondary education teachers in computer science.

The national effort aims to increase the number of high school educators who are qualified to teach computer science from 2,000 to 10,000 by 2015. It also aims to reverse declining college enrollment in computer science by improving the quality and availability of an advanced computer science curriculum at the high school level.

Computer science enrollment at Purdue has seen wide swings, said Susanne Hambrusch, a Purdue professor of computer science involved in the project.

"We find ourselves having 987 undergraduates in 2001, and six years later we have 454," Hambrusch said. "This decrease has been experienced at the national level, not just at Purdue. Right now, Purdue's enrollment is still relatively low, about 470 students."

Computer Science faculty are collaborating with faculty in the College of Education to implement and attract secondary education students to the endorsement created by the International Society for Technology in Education. The endorsement prepares students who are working toward a teaching license in another discipline, such as math or technology, to teach computer science.

Hambrusch said it is crucial to create pathways into the endorsement for students considering a career in secondary education.

"Unless we can influence what is taught in the high schools, we may have a hard time getting across to incoming freshmen what computer science really is," Hambrusch said.

Last year, only 14,529 high school students nationwide took the computer science advanced placement exam. That compares to 204,000 who took the calculus exam and 140,000 who took the biology exam.

Hambrusch said Purdue plans to develop two courses for the program. Contemporary Issues in Computing will be offered in the spring 2010 semester. The one-credit course touches on a broad range of topics, including how computing and the Internet have changed society and commerce.

The other is a computer science methods course, which will train prospective teachers how to think like computer scientists and how to teach computer science concepts effectively. Another part of the program will focus on integrating computational thinking and computational processes into existing education courses.

"Students getting the endorsement will actually be involved in helping teach introductory courses in computer science," Hambrusch said. "They will also do student teaching in the schools."

A workshop for high school computer science teachers in Indiana will be Nov. 21 at Purdue. The goal is to inform teachers about Purdue’s new effort and to better understand the status of computer science in today’s high school classrooms and the teaching challenges that exist.

The Department of Computer Science and the College of Education received an $800,000 grant from the National Science Foundation to fund the program.

In addition to Hambrusch, project participants include professors Christoph Hoffmann, Tim Korb in computer science, and James Lehman, A.G. Rud and Aman Yadav from the College of Education.

Writer: Kim Schoonmaker, 765-494-2081,

Source: Susanne Hambrusch, 765-494-1831,

Related Web site:
Project CS4EDU