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Department of Computer Science receives nearly $500,000 to enhance STEM education

BOONE—High school and community college mathematics and science teachers in the region will learn new ways to excite their students about computer science by using data analysis and mining, visualization and image processing during a six-week summer program at Appalachian State University.

The program will equip select teachers to create course modules involving sound, images, videos and music to teach the computer science concepts when they return to their classrooms in the fall.

Funded by a three-year, $499,702 National Science Foundation grant awarded to Dr. Mitch Parry and Dr. Rahman Tashakkori in Appalachian’s Department of Computer Science, the six-week Research Experience for Teachers (RET) Program will bring 12 participants to campus.

The teachers will learn how to use research and inquiry-based experiences to expose their students to ways data analysis, data mining, image processing and visualization can solve interdisciplinary STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) problems. They will put what they learn into practice by working with students enrolled in the department’s Undergraduate Academy of Science summer program.

“Learning is more than just opening a textbook,” Parry said. “We hope that the experiences these teachers put into their curriculum will get their students thinking about ways they can use the computer to learn more about the world, and introduce them to some concepts of what computer science is to encourage them to consider it as a major when they come to college.”

In one activity, teachers will learn about free computer software tools that can be used to analyze and visualize data related to sound, pitch or the characteristics of different instruments.

Image processing and visualization along with music provide a natural hook to interest students in computer science, Tashakkori said. “The teachers will learn to use basic image processing and visualization to help students learn these concepts,” he said.

Teachers will share what they learn during the summer experience with other educators from their school. “We want to create a new energy and experience about learning new techniques that they can share with their colleagues,” Tashakkori said.

Parry and Tashakkori hope that an increased exposure to computer science and its application in science and math classes offered in high schools will encourage more students to pursue STEM and computer science majors.

“Dr. Tashakkori has a long, successful background in interdisciplinary STEM education outreach,” said Dr. Anthony G. Calamai, dean of the College of Arts and Sciences at Appalachian. “His experience includes extensive collaborations with a number of faculty members in the other science departments. Dr. Tashakkori recently was named the Lowes Distinguish Professor in Computer Science at Appalachian. In this case, it is additionally rewarding to see him join forces with a new assistant professor, Dr. Parry, to help prepare better science and math teachers for our region and the state.”

Teachers selected for the RET program will each receive a $6,000 stipend as well as room, board and parking on campus during the summer session and $1,000 to implement new course modules during the academic year. The grant also will fund daylong workshops to be offered during the academic year.

Teachers interested in the program must submit an application, resume, essay, letters of reference from two colleagues and a letter of support from their principal or department chair. The rigorous application process is designed to ensure that applicants are motivated to attend the summer program and will share the experience with other educators and their students, Tashakkori said.

The deadline to apply to the summer program is April 26. The program will run June 17-July 26. Teachers interested in applying to the summer program should visit http://cs.appstate.edu/ret.

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