Three faculty from the College of Education, Health, and Human Sciences (CEHHS) were recently awarded a $1 million grant from the National Science Foundation’s Computer Science for All program. This funding will bring Culturally Relevant Robotics to Fair Garden Preschool and Sam E. Hill Primary School in the Knoxville area. The research team is made up of Frances Harper, assistant professor in CEHHS’ Theory and Practice in Teacher Education, Lori Caudle, and Margaret Quinn, both assistant professors in CEHHS’ Child and Family Studies. Amir Sadovnik, assistant professor of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science in UT’s Tickle College of Engineering, and Darelene Greene, preschool instructional coach for Knox County Schools, as well as community stakeholders, school administrators, preschool teachers, and Black and Latinx children and their families will help with the work of the grant.
Through the Culturally Relevant Robotics Program, children from culturally and linguistically diverse groups will use robots and other digital technologies to support computer science learning in ways that build on home- and community-based resources and experiences. Families and teachers will work alongside the research team as they investigate the impact of the program on Black and Latinx children’s development of computational thinking and their sense of belonging in computer science. Although computational thinking is recognized as a critical, 21st century skill needed for academic and career success, little research has been done on the early access and socialization of computer science among young children from these demographics.
Across the three years, the Culturally Relevant Robotics Program will positively impact hundreds of preschoolers, families, and preschool teachers in Lonsdale and East Knoxville communities. It will increase and improve the teaching of computer science in local, urban preschool and provide families and educators with teaching models that meet the specific needs of their diverse communities. Additionally, this project will improve preschool curriculum by highlighting the ways that intersectional identities, such as race, gender, and class, can impact how children view themselves within the world of computer science. Developing an interest in computer science and robotics for children at an early age could lead to an increase in computer science degrees and diversify the computer science workforce.