This fall, my computer science class will follow the new AP Computer Science curriculum framework while also including culturally responsive instruction that makes use of students’ interests, community settings, and cultural and ethnic backgrounds. Some of the students enjoy freestyle rap and dance, so they will learn how to simulate or enhance their performances using code. Other students study drawing and painting, so they will learn how to use code to create their artwork. This approach is a gateway to computer science, using coding to foster creative expression, and supporting cultural responsiveness that addresses underrepresented students’ lack of exposure to computer science.
Nationwide, AP computer science is becoming more popular, and new initiatives aim to make it more inclusive as well. In 2015, the number of students taking the AP CS exam increased by nearly 24 percent. However, test-takers were overwhelmingly white and male, according to data from the College Board, which administers the AP test. This isn’t new. The exam has traditionally suffered from a lack of racial and gender diversity; conventional CS concepts were not adaptable to ethnically diverse students. In an effort to increase the number and diversity of high school students taking AP CS classes, this fall the College Board will launch a new AP course that teaches a broader range of computing skills, especially skills that involve art, design, and other non-CS practices.
One example of culturally responsive CS is EyeWriter, a low-cost, open source eye-tracking system that allows artists with ALS (Lou Gehrig’s Disease) to draw using just their eyes. A legendary LA graffiti writer named TEMPTONE (TEMPT1), who was stricken with the disease, worked with a team of software developers, hardware hackers and urban projection artists from around the world to develop this project. Like graffiti, algorithms use sets of rules to be followed in computation.The source code for the EyeWriter software is based on openFrameworks, a cross platform C++ library for creative development. In my course students will be asked to explore the connection between computation and graffiti, through the engagement of people who use code to reimagine this cultural art form.
For an educator, cultural competence means having an awareness of one’s own cultural identity and views about difference, and the ability to learn and build on the varying cultural and social norms of one’s students. Cultural competencies can be developed through a number of ways, such asstory sharing, learning maps, symbols and images, and scaffolding.
Whether it’s 3D modeling, music, animation, engineering, mobile app development, biology, visual design, electronics, dance, or even humanities, computer science powers the technology, productivity, and innovation that supports and drives these practices. In designing my class, I looked at the work of Joy Buolamwini, a student and creator at the MIT Media Lab whose research explores who codes, why we code, and how we code—in the belief that these factors are just as important as the computational creations we make. Buolamwini uses movement and code to enable people with diverse interests and backgrounds to express their originality.
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