Teachers Can Now Fund CS Professional Development on DonorsChoose

Teachers Can Now Fund CS Professional Development on DonorsChoose

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Ms. Van Doren was an English teacher at George Whittell High School in Nevada whose students nudged her to start a coding club after participating in an Hour of Code. Then they demanded AP Computer Science classes. Van Doren turned to DonorsChoose to request funds to support her professional development training, and got the funds.

Securing funds on DonorsChoose for professional development would not have been possible a month ago. But today, thanks to a partnership with the NSF and Infosys Foundation USA, the New York City-based nonprofit is entertaining the possibility.

DonorsChoose.org and the National Science Foundation (NSF) have partnered with the Infosys Foundation USA on the latter’s CS for All community giving campaign. The initiative aims to make computer science professional development more accessible for teachers, especially those who do not already teach computer science. The program aims to fund the projects of as many as 2,000 teachers. NSF and the foundation have committed $6 million to the effort collectively. Part of this funding will match community donations through DonorsChoose, and the rest will go towards creating the professional development programs in which the teachers are enrolling. The program opened three weeks before the official announcement, and seven of 30 proposals have received full funding.

How it works: A teacher chooses the NSF-supported curriculum she wants to learn how to teach. She finds a way to learn it. She lists the project on DonorsChoose.org and requests the funds to pay its costs and a stipend. Infosys Foundation USA funds half the project, and it’s up to other donors to pony up the rest.

In order for teachers to join the campaign, they will first have to learn to teach a curriculum developed by the NSF: either Exploring Computer Science (ECS), an introductory computer science course; CS Principles, a new proposed AP course; or Bootstrap, a computer science class meant to supplement algebra courses. The website for each curriculum has its own unique professional development: ECS PD, CS Principles Workshops or Bootstrap Workshops.

Vandana Sikka, Chairperson of the Infosys Foundation USA, said the initiative has two goals: to widen access to computer science for underserved students, and to create a sustainable model for developing computer science teachers. Sikka hopes the program helps teachers without computer science degrees learn to teach the subject.

“It accelerates the impact of our work and scales it,” Sikka said. “Before, you had to be part of big group of teachers all partaking in the same professional development. Now we can individualize the training of computer science teachers.”

She acknowledged this funding model for teacher training is unusual. “With normal professional development, a math teacher becomes a better math teacher,” she said. “We’re asking an eager English teacher to learn to code and to teach coding. It brings in the possibility of combining computer science and whatever that teacher is interested in.”

The path to the partnership was not always smooth sailing, though. Jan Cuny, Program Director for Computing Education at the National Science Foundation, approached DonorsChoose a few times with the idea before it came to fruition. Charles Best, CEO of DonorsChoose, said the challenge came with vetting the projects.

“For the first 15 years of DonorsChoose’s life, we only allowed for student resources,” Best said. “It was much easier to see where the money went when there was a physical object. With this pilot, we involve the principal and the NSF-verified materials to ensure it’s a rigorous program.”

DonorsChoose is not, however, permanently open to funding professional development. Best said the success of CS for All community giving initiative will determine how the crowdfunding site moves forward with these types of projects. But he is optimistic about the possibility. 

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