Mathematician Attends White House Computer Science Education Conference

headshot of Savkar

Amit Savkar, associate professor in residence of mathematics, brings his passion for math education to help improve computer science education across Connecticut. (Bri Diaz/UConn Photo)

President Obama in January announced a new $4 billion national initiative, CS For All, to improve offerings of computer science classes in K-12 schools across the country.

Amit Savkar, associate professor in residence of mathematics, with a group of Connecticut educators and education administrators, recently represented Connecticut at the White House Symposium on State Implementation of CS for All, in Washington, D.C.

The Oct. 28 summit brought together educators and researchers from 17 states to trade best practices, learn about initiatives in other states, and jumpstart specific programs to improve states’ offerings of computer science.

“We’re trying to get computer science recognized as a discipline, like math, science and English, in K-12 education,” he explains. “How can we help students have computer science literacy?”

According to the CS For All program, in 2015, there were more than 600,000 open high-paying tech jobs across the United States. The program predicts that by 2018, more than half of all STEM jobs will be in computer science-related fields.

“It’s one thing to say you’re going to have computer science for all,” Savkar says. “But how do you actually get it for all? You need teacher training, policies, funding, assessments. It’s highly complex.”

Savkar served on the Connecticut Commissioner’s Council of Mathematics, which earlier this year drafted recommendations to the state on improving math education for K-12.

Now, with federal grant money administered through the non-profit Expanding Computing Education Pathways, Savkar recently joined a team comprising Chinma Uche, math and computer science teacher at Hartford’s Academy of Aerospace and Engineering High School; Seth Freeman, associate professor of business and technology at Capital Community College; and Gary Mala, superintendent of Avon Public Schools, who have been working on computer science education initiatives. The group is assessing the state of computer science in Connecticut and planning pathways to improve it.

Connecticut was one of 17 states represented at the conference, and one of three, with Indiana and Texas, that received national funding in August to explore ways to improve computer science education.

group in whitehouse

Savkar in the White House Indian Treaty Room of the Eisenhower Executive Office Building, with team members Chinma Uche, math and computer science teacher at Hartford’s Academy of Aerospace and Engineering High School; Seth Freeman, associate professor of business and technology at Capital Community College; and Gary Mala, superintendent of Avon Public Schools. (Photo courtesy Amit Savkar)

Savkar is currently Director of Assessment and Teaching for freshman-level mathematics. He holds a Ph.D. in mechanical engineering and has been teaching math for more than a decade, and is currently pursuing a second Ph.D. in educational psychology at UConn’s Neag School of Education.

He says he hopes his unique background makes him suited to create education research projects that will help educators better understand and assess computer science education at the K-12 level.

At the summit, Savkar and his colleagues learned from U.S. Chief Technology Officer Megan Smith that despite more and more students interested in computer science at the college level, the numbers of women and underrepresented minority students studying computer science – both nationally and in Connecticut – have not improved over time.

Savkar called these statistics “alarming,” and pointed to increasing participation among these groups as a top priority to be integrated into Connecticut’s computer science education policies.

The team’s immediate goal is to create a collaboration of University, school district and policy leaders to increase teacher training for in-service and pre-service teachers throughout the state, with the ultimate goal of enabling each Connecticut school district to offer computer science in their elementary, middle and high schools within the next calendar year.

Moving forward, Savkar and his colleagues will collect information on various computer science initiatives around the state and assess what shared resources and services can be created to bolster these projects and create new ones to meet this goal.

Savkar will participate within the group as a researcher to help assess these new K-12 initiatives, and hopes to form partnerships with colleagues in the Neag School of Education and the School of Engineering. He also hopes that their work will motivate state policymakers to take notice, and perhaps create a position statement on the work.

The team will apply for further funding to implement their goals through a $95 million request for proposals through federal CS For All.

“My passion is math education, and now I really hope to help move Connecticut forward with computer science education,” says Savkar.

By: Christine Buckley, College of Liberal Arts and Sciences

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