1. Fred Martin
  2. http://www.cs.uml.edu/~fredm/
  3. Professor
  5. University of Massachusetts Lowell
  1. Akira Kamiya
  2. Teacher Learning Center Director
  4. Medford Public Schools

Middle School Pathways in Computer Science

NSF Awards: 1433592

2016 (see original presentation & discussion)

Grades 6-8

Middle School Pathways in Computer Science (“CS Pathways”) is an NSF-supported project that’s created a partnership between the University of Massachusetts Lowell (UML), the Tri-City Technology Education Collaborative Inc. (TRITEC), and the urban school districts of Medford and Everett, MA to bring project-based, socially-relevant computing experiences to district middle school students.

Project teachers have developed a 15- to 20-hour computing curriculum that is integrated with existing district technology and engineering courses. In 2016, its second project year, the curriculum is present in all seven district middle schools, and is being delivered to 450 students per year. In 2015, the project team conducted intensive 30-hour summer camps attended by 72 students. The team plans to reach 140 students in each of its second and third years.

Using MIT App Inventor, a blocks-based design environment for building mobile apps, students are developing their own apps that support socially relevant activities in their communities. University computer science students and industry professionals are visiting project classrooms and working with middle school students.

The team is investigating: (1) student learning outcomes—how the project’s school-day and summer-intensive project work and career awareness activities influence students’ attitudes toward computing and ability to engage in computing practices; (2) teacher outcomes—how the project’s collaborative professional development model leads to teacher content learning and curricular adoptions; and (3) broadening participation outcomes—how the school-day intervention leads to students’ choice of continued involvement in computing, including the summer camps and future opportunities beyond middle school.

This video has had approximately 708 visits by 614 visitors from 227 unique locations. It has been played 335 times.
activity map thumbnail Click to See Activity Worldwide
Map reflects activity with this presentation from the NSF 2016 STEM For All Video Showcase website, as well as the STEM For All Multiplex website.
Based on periodically updated Google Analytics data. This is intended to show usage trends but may not capture all activity from every visitor.
show more
Original Discussion from the NSF 2016 STEM For All Video Showcase
  • Icon for: Akira Kamiya

    Akira Kamiya

    May 16, 2016 | 12:30 p.m.

    I tried to emphasize the student’s experience in this video. Obviously there are many other important aspects of this project including teacher professional development, the curriculum development, research into student learning etc, that could have been included. But to me the most demonstrative and rewarding part of the project is to see the student’s faces when the tablet works the way they built it on the computer screen, and they figure “it” out.

    My question for you as the viewer of this is, what do you think exactly is “it” is, when this happens? Is it called “computational thinking”? Can this positive experience transfer over to be beneficial to other content areas. And also have you seen this kind of experience as well when teaching kids programming? And how can we foster this kind of experience to be wide spread?


  • Icon for: Elc Estrera

    Elc Estrera

    May 16, 2016 | 06:12 p.m.

    Thanks for kicking off the discussion, Akira. I think one description of “it” is logical thinking. My sense is programming forces folks to think logically through problems, and their thought process is the code.

    On a separate note, what challenges have you all encountered during implementation?

  • Icon for: Akira Kamiya

    Akira Kamiya

    May 17, 2016 | 09:46 a.m.

    Hello Elc,
    Oh, there have been plenty of challenges. But we still manage to get these “aha” moments like those captured in the video, for a majority of the students! The important thing is to make sure we have lesson plans that can fit into the very short class times, and to make sure, the content is properly scaffolded, so that the students only have to grapple with bite sized chunks of material.

    As far as the challenges, they are not unique to this project: class time is certainly too short for deeper exploration of topics, standardized testing takes over the computer labs, internet connectivity issues further reduce time for coding, overcrowded class rooms make it hard for teachers to get around to help those with questions, for ELL students sometimes language is an issue, or even the lack of a basic computer literacy baseline is an obstacle for some in our community.

    I’d be interested in seeing if others doing similar work are encountering these issues listed and how are they dealing with them?

  • Small default profile

    David Leamon

    May 17, 2016 | 10:36 a.m.

    I loved seeing those aha moments light up their faces . As our world becomes more tech/computer oriented this type of education/training is an invaluable resource . The more options you have , and broader knowledge of technology is key , a better outlook for the future in what ever endeavor a young person choses to follow . Kudos to all

  • May 17, 2016 | 03:52 p.m.

    How much time do you set aside for teacher professional development? And, are teachers using App Inventor in a tech class, or do you have examples of teachers using it in a core class like math or science to teach disciplinary content (thus avoiding the problem of selection bias that comes with implementation in elective Tech classes)?

  • Icon for: Fred Martin

    Fred Martin

    Lead Presenter
    May 17, 2016 | 04:21 p.m.

    Hi Carol. Our proposal specified 46 hours of PD per year. We are delivering that with a combination of summer PD, face-to-face afterschool PD, and video meetings.

    Teachers who continued from the project’s first year to its second (our “Cohort 1”) are receiving differentiated PD from those who started in the second year (“Cohort 2”).

    I definitely see PD as on-going process. Now that our Cohort 1 teachers have a full year of the project behind them, they are able to refine their practices in their second year.

    They are able to advance their own CS knowledge and pedagogical skills, and share these insights with the newer Cohort 2 teacher group.

    Our project plan is to institutionalize the curriculum primarily in the schools’ technology courses.

    However, in our two districts, these are required middle school courses, so all students in the districts are receiving the project intervention.

  • Icon for: Barbara Ericson

    Barbara Ericson

    Senior Research Scientist
    May 17, 2016 | 04:00 p.m.

    You might be interested in some of the projects that I created for App Inventor and used successfully in our computing summer camps. See http://ice-dl.cc.gatech.edu/?q=node/873. I found it best for middle school students to provide an app with the user interface done and just have the students focus on the programming. I agree with you that scaffolding is important.

    I like the idea of having the students create apps for local groups. Is that working well?

    Why did you decide to work with middle school students rather than high school students?

  • May 17, 2016 | 04:06 p.m.

    I Love the Cowbell project Barbara! Gotta know – was that you or a student who came up with it?

  • Icon for: Fred Martin

    Fred Martin

    Lead Presenter
    May 17, 2016 | 04:24 p.m.

    Hi Barbara!

    I am curious about your suggestion of having kids fill in only the programming. My colleague Akira suggested this and I didn’t want to do it. Would you elaborate on in what ways you found this effective?

    I’m afraid that kids will feel less ownership over the project if they didn’t conceive of it and design it themselves. That’s a big part of the endeavor in our project — particularly during the summer camps, but also during the school-year.

    I could see the programming-only work as a valuable exercise — situated in the context of kids doing their own original work.

    I also feel it’s important for kids to exercise their digital literacy skills — e.g., selecting and editing image assets and/or sound assets, and learning how to upload them to App Inventor.

    I do see this as a big part of the overall process of creating an app. It’s very important to me that kids feel like they’ve made something that’s their own.

    Re: middle school vs. high school, this was based on our premise of infusing computer science into the districts’ existing, required, middle school technology courses.

    We see great synergies between the existing courses’ educational goals, which include digital literacies, and the computer science material that the teachers are learning and introducing to their students.

    Also, because the middle school technology courses are mandatory, we can be sure of reaching all students this way.

  • Icon for: Akira Kamiya

    Akira Kamiya

    May 18, 2016 | 08:42 a.m.

    Fred, I understand your concern with the feeling of ownership idea. This certainly is important and helps drive a student to persist, but I guess I see this as all part of a process that comes out in stages.
    In defense of the modular, partial app idea, that Barbara mentions, I see it as a way in a short 50 min time frame to get kids swiftly into the core concept of a given programming task quickly. So working with the teacher we have created a gallery of “starter” apps, where most of the interface, components, and some of the blocks are already revealed. We’ve created a couple similar starter apps around differing themes so that there is some measure of student choice involved.
    Then once these concepts are introduced and mastered, the next phase is a new app based on the starter that has content more student driven and can have deep variations to the base code. So that in some cases we can cycle through a similar app with deeper computational thinking levels coming in successive iterations of what is almost the same activity!

  • Icon for: Fred Martin

    Fred Martin

    Lead Presenter
    May 18, 2016 | 08:53 a.m.

    I’m curious to see Barbara’s reply too :)

  • Icon for: Barbara Ericson

    Barbara Ericson

    Senior Research Scientist
    May 19, 2016 | 03:43 p.m.

    I agree with Fred that it is important to allow the students to customize their work or work on something they find interesting. If you look at our distance learning website projects at (http://ice-dl.cc.gatech.edu/?q=node/873) the projects always end with challenges, so the the student could add something else of their own choosing. We also tried to build in choice in some of the projects. For example the fortune teller allowed the students to specify the different fortunes. We also would have students work on anything they wanted after they had done enough projects that gave them a good start in understanding what they could create with App Inventor. One problem is that you need to manage expectations or kids think they are going to make Angry Birds in 30 minutes.

    We found that middle school students got frustrated with the amount of work it takes to create a good user interface. We also found that they wouldn’t name things the same way we did and then couldn’t find the blocks for programming since it uses the widget name.

    Akira is correct that the projects on our distance learning website were intended to scaffold the student so they could learn one particular thing in 30 minutes to an hour.

    As for cowbell, yes I came up with that as a quick app to create that students found interesting. I also liked that you can change it to a clapping sound and say that it would be useful for a vet if they only had one arm and wanted to clap.

  • Icon for: Ugochi Acholonu

    Ugochi Acholonu

    Research Scientist
    May 17, 2016 | 05:11 p.m.

    Great video, great project! Do you have any early findings around who decides to continue on after the intervention. What contributes to this decision? Also, why was App Inventor 2 selected versus other tools. Thanks!

  • Icon for: Fred Martin

    Fred Martin

    Lead Presenter
    May 17, 2016 | 05:32 p.m.

    Thanks Ugochi!

    We’re in our second year, and students who were 8th graders in our project last year will now be in 9th grade / high school, where some of them have options for taking a CS elective. We are doing a study on their choices, but we don’t have results yet.

    Regarding App Inventor 2, it was important to us that kids make real apps that really work (see my note to Barbara Ericson above). To me, mobile apps have the greatest social currency as real products of computer science right now.

    At the time that we launched the project, App Inventor 2 was the only tool for building apps that was appropriate for middle school kids.

    I think code.org’s AppLab would be another possibility now.

  • Icon for: Nicole Reitz-Larsen

    Nicole Reitz-Larsen

    May 18, 2016 | 01:41 a.m.

    Thank you for sharing video segments with students working. It is great to se students engaged and learning about apps that look at social issues and how they might be solved.

    What kind of scalability would you like to see with your curriculum and professional development? Who are the teachers coming to the training an what is their background?

  • Icon for: Fred Martin

    Fred Martin

    Lead Presenter
    May 18, 2016 | 08:02 a.m.

    Hi Nicole, thanks.
    We’re starting to think about scaling — including formalizing our PD materials, and designing a tiered mentor/mentee model with teachers. Part of our approach is that teachers need to design the alignments between the CS curriculum and their existing curriculum (e.g. the tech literacy courses).
    Our teachers have a variety of backgrounds, including business, engineering, and art.

  • Icon for: Akira Kamiya

    Akira Kamiya

    May 18, 2016 | 01:05 p.m.

    As I was just preparing for teacher training we are about to offer, I came across an very thought provoking article by Tasneem Raja from the periodical Mother Jones, called “Is Coding the New Literacy?”. The part I found interesting, as we begin to help teachers move beyond just basic skills knowledge around CS, is, how do we get at the deeper learning that can happen when students start to code? Its another level beyond that “aha” moment of empowerment pictured here in the video.

    In the article, Raja points out that its not good enough to get kids to know the blocks and how to move them about, though that in itself is a good cause. But just doing this misses an important opportunity. An opportunity for students to understand the larger process. The process of imagination, invention, description, creation, analysis, testing, debugging/recreation etc. and also how all this fits into their world around them. And all of this is part of a logical and scientific process that if learned, is then something portable to other realms of a students learning. To me this is the exciting part!

    So its not so much about just following this tutorial or that tutorial, or doing this step next then that step.
    But more about having the student explore questions like:
    What do you want the app to do?
    What is the user going to do?
    How should the app react?
    What does the app do now?
    Is this what you want? etc.

    What do think? Have you thought about this at all?


  • Icon for: Harvey Siy

    Harvey Siy

    Associate Professor
    May 19, 2016 | 01:49 p.m.

    Great video and I love the “Aha!” moments. Creating mobile apps that are relevant to the students is a great way to engage kids. Do you see similar “Aha!” moments for students in the technology classrooms as opposed to the summer camps? I’m interested in being able to transfer that kind of amazing summer camp experience to the classroom.

    I’m also curious about your experience with App Inventor and middle schoolers. Did they run into platform issues (network connectivity, emulator, etc.)? Also, do you have suggestions for helping students learn debugging skills while programming App Inventor?

  • Icon for: Fred Martin

    Fred Martin

    Lead Presenter
    May 19, 2016 | 04:08 p.m.

    Hi Harvey! We definitely see the Aha!’s during the school year and the summer camps. Actually this video is from the school year!

    On technology, App Inventor can be a little frustrating but with good IT support it works well. We have figured out in the schools to use the WiFi connection between the tablets and the desktop computers. I definitely advise acquiring tablets — or donations of old phones, which work fine. But the emulator is really not fun to use.

    Regarding debugging, the main thing we do is encourage everyone to use App Inventor’s “Live Development” mode — meaning, the tablet is always connected to the software IDE, so as soon as you add a component, you see it on the tablet’s screen.

    Then we encourage kids to build and test their app iteratively.

  • Icon for: Harvey Siy

    Harvey Siy

    Associate Professor
    May 19, 2016 | 05:30 p.m.

    Thanks, Fred, for the clarification and the advice on App Inventor!
    Since the teachers have 15-20 hours of lessons, it seems the they need to get their students ready and able to create apps rather quickly. What resources did they find useful for getting started with App Inventor?

  • Icon for: Fred Martin

    Fred Martin

    Lead Presenter
    May 19, 2016 | 05:38 p.m.

    In our PD with our first cohort of teachers, we jointly developed the essential elements of the curriculum.

    We use tutorials on the MIT site and Dave Wolber’s appinventor.org site.

    Specifically, our first two apps are TalkToMe (from MIT) and I Have a Dream (from Wolber).

    Those two apps are a good chunk of the school-year time, and the I Have a Dream app includes lots of digital literacy skills as well as App Inventor coding skills.

    From there, teachers facilitate conversations where kids develop ideas for their own apps, and then carry them out.

    Some of our teachers use additional tutorials. PaintPot is one of the more prevalent ones.

  • Further posting is closed as the event has ended.

Multiplex Discussion
  • Post to the Discussion

    Presenters and Facilitators, please login before contributing to the discussion.



    NOTE: Your email will be kept private and will not be shared with any 3rd parties