Nearly twice as many students and teachers from Cortez Middle School will get to attend this year’s Math in Action in Computer Science camp at Colorado State University than in 2013.
The National Science Foundation awarded Shrideep Pallickara, a professor in the Department of Computer Science from CSU’s College of Natural Sciences, an extra $40,000 to boost the number of attendees. Last year, eight students and one teacher participated.
“We felt more students could benefit from this program so we asked NSF for additional funding, and we got it,” Pallickara said. “It’s very exciting for us.”
This year’s MACS camp runs June 1-7.
During the intensive, week-long camp, students and teachers learn to apply middle school math concepts to computer science through a series of games like Zombie Dice and a takeoff of the Monty Hall “Let’s Make A Deal” show.
Their class time is divided between learning concepts such as probability and then building programs and coding in computer languages such as Python. Students post the results of their work and an explanation of a project each day on personalized websites.
“We try to make it fun for them to learn,” Pallickara said. “It’s designed to be very educational and also demanding. None of these students has ever coded before.”
This is the second year CSU has offered the camp.
Pallickara launched the program after winning a prestigious CAREER grant from the National Science Foundation. Part of the grant includes funding for an educational outreach activity. He wanted to create a program to teach middle school students how the math concepts they are learning are used in the real world.
“There is a disconnect,” Pallickara said. “Students don’t understand why they have to learn something and when they will use it after they get out of school. Some of the basics of the math concepts I use in my research are taught in middle school.”
With the help of the CSU Alliance Partnership, he selected Cortez Middle School to participate in the program, which NSF is funding for the next five years. The school is near the Ute and Navajo Indian reservations in the Four Corners region of Colorado and experiences a high dropout rate. It also feeds students to Montezuma-Cortez High School, one of the 10 Colorado schools the Alliance program partners with to encourage high school students to attend college.
During the MACS camp, students and teachers learn computer coding and also experience life on a college campus. They stay in the dorms, eat at a dining hall, learn about financial aid, the admissions process and even get a daily pass to the CSU Recreation Center.
“We expose them to as many aspects of college as we can,” Pallickara said