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Helping to Debug the Digital Divide

Teaching and Lifelong Learning

Resilient Societies

Elementary students across the Austin Independent School District are spending a class period riveted by the action on their computer screens.

But they aren’t scrolling through YouTube or playing the latest computer game, they are learning how to code — and having a blast.

Dr. Thomas works with a student in the classroom

Dr. Cathy Thomas, an associate professor in the College of Education at Texas State University, has been working vigorously since 2017 to ensure that 200 fourth grade students throughout the Austin Independent School District get a fair opportunity to learn a valuable skill that can pay dividends down the road.

Thomas’ desire to ensure children from all walks of life have equitable learning opportunities is undeniable. “I hope that the field of computer science becomes accessible for all students. Hopefully, over the long term, students that get to engage with this curriculum will be confident tech users ... which is an entry into the workforce.”

Funded by the National Science Foundation, Thomas collaborated with Dr. Diana Franklin of the University of Chicago to create Comprehending Code. With her expertise in reading comprehension and Franklin’s deep knowledge of computing education, the interdisciplinary duo have developed intuitive and highly effectual strategies that help struggling learners “think about their thinking” in order to improve their coding skills. They integrated these strategies into a previously developed curriculum used with the MIT-created Scratch coding platform.

Now, children who have had limited opportunities to code are receiving a masterfully designed systemic experience and meaningful introduction into the world of computer science.

A bridge is being built across the digital divide.

an elementary school student works on a computer

A computer science major can earn 40% more than the college average.

Source: The Hamilton Project

African Americans and Hispanics account for only 14% of employees in computer jobs (7 percent each respectively).

Source: Pew Research Center analysis of 2014–2016 American Community Survey

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