During the school year, Annie Kelly is usually the one at the front of the classroom, teaching Computer Science and Digital Media Arts to her students at Jenkintown Middle and High School. For the past two summers, though, it’s been Kelly’s turn to learn as a participant in REThink at Drexel University’s College of Computing & Informatics (CCI). The REThink Program, a Research Experiences for Teachers (RET) Site in Engineering and Computer Science for Big Data, Machine Learning and CS Principles, is an annual summer research camp for STEM teachers in the City of Philadelphia and the Greater Philadelphia Metropolitan Area.
Backed by a grant from the National Science Foundation (Grant No. CNS-1711773), the program offers a summer research camp for STEM teachers at high schools and two-year colleges. The objectives of the program are to build partnerships between high schools, community colleges and the university, introduce teachers to cutting edge research in the computer science community, inform and excite them about computer science principles and computational thinking, produce learning materials for use in high school and community college STEM curricula, and expand the pipeline of students studying STEM and computing curricula in college. The program's directors are CCI Professors Jeffrey Popyack, PhD and Dario Salvucci, PhD.
Kelly was one of ten local educators who participated in this year’s program. The participants and their faculty mentors presented their research at the end-of-summer showcase, held on CCI’s 10th floor lobby in 3675 Market, earlier this month. The projects on display during the showcase included a variety of research with real world application including driver distraction, smart garments for perinatal care, pediatric cardiology, computational tools for breast cancer diagnosis, and automated tissue analysis. Following the summer program, the participating teachers will remain involved year-round by taking part in monthly video meetings with their faculty mentors.
Kelly, who worked on the driver distraction project with faculty mentor Dario Salvucci, sat down with us to answer some questions about her experience in REThink over the past two years.
CCI: How did you first hear about REThink, and what about the program made you interested in getting involved?
Annie Kelly: I heard about the REThink program from a former participant, Suzanne Speirs, who told me it was "The best computer science-related professional development [she'd] ever experienced." As a relatively new computer science teacher, I am always seeking out opportunities to improve, network, and learn.
CCI: How has your participation in REThink impacted your own classroom practice?
AK: REThink has provided me with an incredible support system -- teachers helping teachers, who are always more than willing to share resources and solve problems. The intensive six-week summer program extends to monthly Zoom meetings for the following year, so teachers are able to touch base frequently and feel supported throughout the year.
CCI: What do you see as the value of taking part in this program?
AK: This program not only offers a way to gain content knowledge, but also seek out new educational opportunities, participate in research, and be a part of something greater. Drexel itself offers a lot of awesome resources (like the ExCITe Center, various labs, and its central location) and I have met many people in the computer science community and beyond who have become role models and friends.
CCI: Are there specific findings from the distracted driver research project that you’re interested in continuing to explore?
AK: I am really interested in Dr. Salvucci's expanding research from driver distraction to multitasking in general. In a time where most people have a smart phone and its accompanying apps and notifications, I'm interested in how we can mitigate the negative impacts of distraction, whether while driving, communicating, or learning. It seems that distraction of all kinds (visual, cognitive, or auditory) impact people differently, but one thing is certain: humans can't appropriately multitask, while still doing their best on all involved tasks.
CCI: Is there anything else you think our followers should know about the REThink Program that we haven’t covered?
AK: This program is seriously awesome. It truly is the best computer science-related professional development I've experienced. I feel as though I am bringing new, interesting, and authentic assignments and topics to my students, and they are reaping the benefits of my participation in the program. It's a great way to spend the summer, immersed in research, learning, and transforming.
Learn more about the REThink Program, including this year's participating teachers, faculty mentors, and research project findings, by visiting its website.