UIC faculty member helps bring computer science to every student in Chicago Public Schools
By Andrea Poet
Each member of the Chicago Public Schools (CPS) high school class of 2020 will have completed a computer science course before graduation next spring, making Chicago the first large school district in the nation to require computer science education.
Dale Reed, clinical professor in the computer science (CS) department and director of computer science recruitment at UIC, was a part of a team that championed this change. He has worked to bring computer science to area schools for more than 12 years.
“It’s been our mission for a long time to provide a compelling and relevant computer science experience to every student in Chicago,” Reed said. “We think it’s the right thing for our kids, and by our kids I mean all the kids in Chicago. We also think it’s the right thing for our country in terms of providing a competitive advantage, and we think it’s the right thing for our students because they can use technology in lots of different careers.”
Initially, Reed started visiting area high schools, and over the course of six years gave hundreds of presentations to more than 10,000 students, in groups of 30. The goal was to acquaint CPS students with CS and with UIC. The thought was people were unfamiliar with the school, with what engineering is, and what resources were available to prospective students. While it’s hard to imagine now, with computer science undergraduate enrollment projected to surpass 1,400 students for the fall of 2019, in 2005 the department had just 185 undergraduate students.
During his days of presenting to high school students, Reed met a few different high school teachers and began discussing computer science education. Many schools didn’t have dedicated computer science teachers; oftentimes, a math teacher would provide instruction in the subject, if it was taught at all. Some schools —and parents —mistakenly defined computer science as keyboarding, browsing the internet and video games. Eventually a few like-minded professors joined the group— Lucia Dettori from DePaul University, Ron Greenberg from Loyola University, and initially, Matt Bauer from Illinois Institute of Technology. They began meeting with Brenda Wilkerson, who was then the director of computer science education for CPS. The group quickly realized that they needed a course to offer to high school principals who were interested in a computer science curriculum.
The group chose Exploring Computer Science, a year-long, research-based high school introductory computer science curriculum and teacher professional development program. After attending the weeklong professional development in Los Angeles with CPS teachers Jeff Solin and Don Yanek, Reed and the team brought Exploring Computer Science professional development to Chicago for the first group of CPS teachers. Thanks in part to Reed’s efforts, The National Science Foundation provided a CE21 Taste of Computing grant for the professional development (PD) sessions, and Chicago now hosts three of these PD sessions per year.
In addition to serving as an Exploring Computer Science facilitator for CPS, Reed is a national professional development mentor facilitator. This summer Reed worked with groups at Tuskegee and Clemson, and the national meeting in Golden, Colorado.
“Working with the high school teachers has had a profound impact on me personally, and here at UIC,” Reed said. “For most students our traditional classroom format of one voice at a time talking for mostly the whole time is not the most effective way to teach, and I’ve learned about that from the high school teachers.”
Reed credits UIC with supporting his efforts with CPS, as well as the national teacher mentoring. UIC hosted the first professional development workshop, and has hosted Chicago Computer Science Teachers Association events, including Chicago’s Inaugural CS Education Unconference in 2018.
Reed is passionate that computer science education in the schools is beneficial for all students. He’s not alone in this belief; a few years ago, the leaders of the College Board, the group that administers the SAT college entrance exam, said that of all the skills and knowledge they test students for that correlate with success in college and beyond, a mastery of computer science and the U.S. Constitution were key. They have since adapted the SATs and AP program to measure knowledge of both.
“It’s not just for the computer science majors. Technology is now a tool that is present in everything; it’s ubiquitous in entertainment, scientific research, data analysis, and politics,” Reed said. “It is part of being educationally literate in today’s modern world.”
This semester, you can find Reed teaching CS 141 here at UIC.