Ni Receives $1.5 million to Build Computer Science Capacity in K-12 Schools

Ni Receives $1.5 million to Build Computer Science Capacity in K-12 Schools

Boy standing in front of ipad smiling

Albany, NY (October 22, 2019) - Lijun Ni received two grants from the National Science Foundation (NSF) totaling more than $1.5 million to build capacity in K-12 schools to ensure that all students have an opportunity to learn computer science while in school. Ni, a faculty member in the Department of Educational Theory and Practice, will focus on building and enhancing professional learning communities of middle school and high school teachers to identify and scale best practices in teaching computer science. 

Computer Science for All (CS for All) (www.nsf.gov/csforall) is a major initiative of NSF and the U.S. Department of Education designed to ensure that all students have the opportunity to learn computer science. According to the Foundation’s website, “NSF funds research and development that is building the necessary foundations for implementing rigorous and engaging computer science … to support stronger K-12 science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) education efforts.”  The initiative has a specific focus on expanding access to traditionally underrepresented groups in computer science such as girls, minorities, and persons with disabilities.

Ni, who is also coordinator of the School of Education’s online graduate certificate in computing education, will be working on these two separate projects to advance this work. Dr. Ni said, “We need many qualified computer science teachers to prepare all students to live and work in our dynamic, technology-driven 21st-century world. These two projects will explore new models of teacher learning communities to prepare and support the next generation of computer science teachers.”

In the first project, she will be working with the Computer Science Teachers Association (CSTA) to understand how those who teach computer science develop their professional identities and then support teachers to improve their practice in the classroom. The project will impact more than 27,000 computer science teachers around the world, 17,000 of which are located in the United States, by working with CSTA to develop and scale evidence-based professional development across the 74 CSTA chapters in 38 states and Puerto Rico.  

In the second project, Ni will collaborate with colleagues at the University of Massachusetts–Lowell to build a researcher and practitioner partnership to create inclusive, culturally-responsive, and sustainable computer science programs at the middle school level (grades 5 through 8). Locally, Ni will be collaborating with the district administration, school boards, principals, teachers, and parents in Schenectady City Schools.  The project builds upon the middle school "CS Pathways" curriculum developed with NSF support including two urban-rim school districts in the Boston (MA) area. This curriculum engages students in both digital literacies and computer science as they develop apps for social and community good.

women on tablets

“We are very excited about the work of Dr. Ni which is significantly advancing the teaching of computer science in New York schools as well as positioning the University at Albany as one of the state’s leading institutions in both forward-thinking curriculum design and diversifying the teacher pipeline,” said Dr. Jason E. Lane, interim dean of the School of Education.  “Dr. Ni already serves as a role model for girls and women interested in pursuing STEM education and this will only strengthen our ability to support and extend the on-ramps for more students to pursue college and careers in this important area.”

Ni’s work extends beyond her research as she also serves as a state leader in this space. She is currently a member of the Technology Policy and Practice Council for New York’s State Education Department, as well as a member of the committee developing the standards for computer science and digital literacy for New York’s teachers.