IPE: Why and How we work INSIDE Schools: The Exploring Computer Science Project

Digital media technology is often considered the magic bullet for awakening students’
interests and improving academic achievement but, in schools, technology often serves only
as a shiny veneer to cover profoundly deadened learning situations.
Over multiple years researching and working on computer science (CS) education reform,
we have found that too many American high schools are “technology rich, but curriculum
poor” (Margolis, et al., 2008).  Especially in urban schools with high numbers of African
American and Latino/a students, learning is often limited to rudimentary user skills with basic
applications while curriculum rarely teaches critical problem solving for innovation with digital
media technology (i.e. the “science” of CS).
To address these inadequacies and inequities, we have built a university/K-12 partnership
with the second largest school district in the country—Los Angeles Unified School District
(LAUSD). Our NSF-supported research team developed “Exploring Computer Science”
(ECS)—a high school curriculum that embodies “making, tinkering, and remixing” through
inquiry-based projects that bring rigorous, college-preparatory, CS knowledge to diverse,
urban schools (see www.exploringcs.org). Our mission is to democratize CS learning by
engaging students with fundamental CS concepts (algorithms, pattern recognition, etc.)
through culturally relevant, hands on, critical pedagogy that makes classroom education
relate to students’ lived experiences and interests. Through ECS, we have built a
professional teaching community and coaching program, supporting educators with learning
content and pedagogical skills. To date we have grown over 500% in 3 years, with over
2000 predominately Latino and African American students enrolled in ECS.
By presenting what we have accomplished with ECS in LA Unified, we wish to share our
lessons learned within the “Innovations for Public Education” themes of this conference. This
panel will be a place for participants to discuss the very real limits of working within the
schools, but also ways to challenge those limits through projects like ECS. Through
interactive dialogue, we wish to challenge the “2012 call for proposals” statement that:
"…there is great evidence to suggest that 'basic skills' and 'core competencies' may be best
learned in classroom environments but then augmented and advanced with the type of
independent, interactive learner-centered experiences that new technologies can provide
outside of the classroom."
Through the voices of ECS researchers, teachers, and students, we will argue that, unless
programs exist within public schools, the digital media movement will further marginalize
traditionally marginalized youth.  
Our panel will consist of two ECS researchers, a teacher, a student, and two discussants—
Antero Garcia, LAUSD English teacher familiar with our work and Todd Ullah, Principal of
LAUSD’s Washington Preparatory High School where ECS is taught. While these
discussants have been involved with ECS projects, we invite them to be internal critics in
this panel. After panelists share their personal experiences with ECS in LAUSD, we will
engage our audience in conversations around ways to democratize access to digital media-
based learning within our public school systems.


Jean Ryoo
Jane Margolis
John Landa
EZ$ Harper
Jane Margolis
Jean Ryoo
Todd Ullah, Discussant
Antero Garcia, Discussant