Teaching CS in history class

Computing is a tool for getting things done. Let’s teach it that way.

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Prof. Mark Guzdial

Computer science touches almost every aspect of our lives and offers great opportunity for impact. And yet, very few students take computer science courses while in high school. Even in states in which 40% or more of high schools offer a computer science class, less than 5% of students take advantage of that opportunity.

As a result, data literacy and a working knowledge of how to employ computing to solve problems continue to be undeveloped skills for many students.

Prof. Mark Guzdial wants more people to have access to the power of programming, so he has proposed a new way to engage high school students with CS: integrate the use of purpose-built computer science tools that include programming  into history courses. He is collaborating with Michigan alumnae Prof. Tamara Shreiner (MA, Social Studies Education 2003, Certificate of Graduate Studies in Museum Studies 2007, PhD Educational Studies 2009) at Grand Valley State who teaches data literacy to future social studies educators. He provides the tools to Shreiner’s curriculum. They involve teachers in the design process so that the curriculum and technology meets teachers’ perceptions of usefulness and usability. Students who take the courses will learn data manipulation skills as a part of completing their history assignments.

Under a new grant from the National Science Foundation, Guzdial is working with high school social studies teachers this fall to realize this vision.

“This project is being built into new, interactive course materials that will allow students to build data visualizations in history classes as part of an inquiry process. We use programs to capture the students’ process as they investigate historical questions,” says Guzdial. 

“By doing this, CS becomes a tool that students can get comfortable with as a part of their learning. A larger and more diverse range of students will get CS experience, and the use of data manipulation tools will allow them to explore history in a new way. We hope that this type of engagement will lead to a greater level of comfort with and participation  in CS courses.”

Over a three-year period, the project will track teachers from Shreiner’s  pre-service data literacy course at Grand Valley State University, into their field experience, and on into their in-service placement. 

“For the project to be successful, teachers need support to feel comfortable with the new tools and to adopt them in their classes,” notes Guzdial. “For this reason, at the end of the three year project, we will be able to describe the factors that influence adoption and non-adoption, so that we can iterate and improve.”