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CSforALL Stories

What Does it Take to Ensure Equity for All in the STEM Space?

CSforALL’s Member Learning Blade Shares Their Work Around Equity in the Computer Science Space

Arkansas is starting their 5th year with Learning Blade www.learningblade.com/AR. Supported by the Governors Computer Science Initiative, Department of Education, and APSRC.

It would be shy to say that 2020 has been a roller-coast, especially in education. The rapid shift from in-person learning to online learning has dramatically changed the way we understand and approach the ALL. As school districts prepare for back to school how do we make sure equity doesn’t get left behind in the STEM space? What is the computer science for all (CSforALL) community doing to continue and improve equity in CS education?

CSforALL had the chance to speak with Learning Blade, an interactive, web-based supplemental system, about their work to increase students’ interest towards CS and STEM careers during a pandemic, and how they continue their work through an equity lens.

Check out our full Q&A with Learning Blade around equity, remote learning, and more:

CSforALL: Learning Blade, thank you for taking the time to share your continuous work with the larger CS community. Would you mind sharing your mission around STEM and Computer Science, and how it has evolved this year with COVID and Black Lives Matter?

Learning Blade: Our mission has been to expose students to the incredible career pathways in CS and in the larger STEM workforce, with engaging standards-aligned content.

The Learning Blade system was designed to increase youth’s interest in careers around STEM and Computer Science, and to fill the pipeline for employers across the country.

In regards to COVID and Black Lives Matter, our mission will continue to focus on highlighting the critical need of making sure we can reach students of ALL backgrounds in a way that engages and excites them about their future careers.

This past spring, when schools across the nation shut down in-person learning and transferred to a remote learning environment, we recognized the need to ensure equitable access for ALL students. The digital divide became more pronounced during this time and the need for quality online materials emerged. We quickly began exploring and working toward a Learning Blade system that could reach students when and where they are. Stay tuned for our equity announcement this fall!

CSforALL: Your work in 5th-9th grades about STEM and CS is across numerous states. Many of those areas are considered rural. How important is it that we focus on equity in those areas?

Learning Blade: In the past few months, the one thing that has happened is highlighting equity particularly around broadband access for rural communities across the country. Making sure we can provide equitable access to the Internet is something we as a nation need to address. We admire the work of the National Rural Education Association and their efforts to highlight and address this. Partnering with them has allowed students who may not have ever thought about pursuing a computer science or STEM career a future career path to pursue. All areas of the country deserve great inspiration of CS and STEM yet, rural areas often lack the resources and role models to properly model STEM and CS.

Last year, Arkansas Governor Asa Hutchinson hosted a National CS Summit with leaders from over 30 states attending. All of the governors that attended acknowledged the need to promote CS education and careers as a pathway for rural students to raise their standard of living and not have to flee their community.

CSforALL: Learning Blade truly is a great example of an organization that doesn’t just stand for equity, but works towards defining it and sharing the story of “why”. Can you share the depths of the how and why you do work that is inclusive?

Learning Blade: This is a great question for us and really quite frankly me
(Sheila Boyington, President/CEO- Thinking Media/Learning Blade®). Being a woman in engineering classes in the early 80’s highlighted the difficulties that women had in pursuing these type of careers. Not only were we small in numbers but we were rarely taken seriously by our colleagues. I can also think back to a time when I moved to the south and was told I could not visit a job site because they would not recognize a woman as an engineer, particularly one of color with my Asian Indian heritage.

Throughout my life it has been a major focus of mine to make sure we can lift up the next generation and help them understand that they can be anything they want to. With advanced degrees in engineering, I have been able to pursue a tremendous career that has included an entrepreneurial slant creating not only Learning Blade but other nationally recognized educational tech products. Engaging and partnering with Million Women Mentors in addition to other organizations has amplified this work not only for me but for many others. It is our challenge and opportunity to continually work towards inclusive.

Learning Blade: The work that CSforALL does nationally encourages groups to put on paper an actual commitment, which becomes an opportunity for each of us to focus on real results of our work. In the past we have partnered with a variety of states and stakeholders to make commitments that are to advance the exposure of computer science careers to students in different parts of our country.

This year, we are working to highlight CS in Alabama, with a joint effort with the Alabama Math and Science Technology Initiative (AMSTI), a branch of the Alabama Department of Education and with Auburn University. They are hosting an AMSTI IRON BOWL — modeled after the college football rivalry game. This event challenges K-12 students to engage in CS and STEM activities across the state. Having the CSforALL commitments allows more groups to engage with the national CSforALL mission.

CSforALL: If you could share one story around your work in the last year what would it be?

Learning Blade: We have had a tremendous opportunity in the last few months to engage with many state education and governors offices. What we are seeing is that states are very focused on providing the basic academics (as they should be). However the great progress we have made in computer science and STEM across the country could be sidelined.

We do not want to see that happen. That is why we share many stories of teachers telling how Learning Blade helped them during the COVID crisis by providing effective distance learning tool. We want to make sure that we recognize and thank these educators as TRUE HEROES during this pandemic time!.

About Learning Blade: Learning Blade is a supplemental STEM and CS toolbox of interactive online lessons, printable activities and lesson plans that are perfect for in class and remote learning. Students engage in 12 “Missions” that demonstrate how STEM and CS careers solve social problems, and that are designed to engage a wide variety of students, including girls, rural and underrepresented groups. The lessons that are aligned to all states’ academic standards, and also include a full soundtrack to aid in reading development. Third-party research (including NSF research) indicates that Learning Blade is effective in improving interest in STEM and CS careers in a cost-efficient manner. Learning Blade is a product of SAI Interactive, Inc. d/b/a Thinking Media, who was also the creators of KeyTrain® and Career Ready 101® that are now owned by ACT.

For more information contact info@learningblade.com.

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CSforALL

CSforALL

The national hub for the Computer Science for All movement, making high-quality computer science education an integral part of K-12 education in the US.