Animal Tlatoque

Animal Tlatoque

Animal Tlatoque: Using Cultural Themes to Engage Middle School Students in Computer Science

Diana Franklin, Gerardo Aldana, Phillip Conrad

Nationwide, neither females nor Latina/os are pursuing computer science at rates reflective of their demographic representation in the general public. Despite the fact that the reasons behind the under-representation of females and Latina/os in Computer Science are both multiple and varied, our goal is to design, offer, and evaluate a summer program to attract students who would not normally consider computer science. The goal of the camp is to give students confidence in their ability to succeed in the computing, provide a positive experience so that when they make their career decision, they will seriously consider computer science, and enroll them in a long-term academic counseling and tracking program to increase their chance of completing a college degree.

Our two first challenges were to attract and engage students who do not already have a strong desire to pursue computer science. For this, we chose themes that we believe are attractive to females and Latina/os, and our camp is careful to only use computer science as a tool to complete interesting projects related to those themes. We have chosen Mesoamerican culture and conservation of endangered species, which are particularly attractive to Latina/os and females and their families in Santa Barbara. Other institutions can replicate this approach by using different culturally-relevant topics that appeal to their target populations. Hence, the focus is not on ecology or cultural studies as an end, but rather as a means to interest students in Computing.

During the two-week, full-day camp, students will learn about how animals were important to Mayan life in Mythology and rituals, using the computer to draw pictures and animate a Mayan story using Mayan style art. For the animation, students will be using Scratch, a programming language designed specifically for middle school students. Students will work in pairs to populate a website to tell other students about the plight of a particular endangered specie today. Finally, students will have the option of making a computer game or a virtual pet application with Scratch. Amidst this work, we have outdoor games that use computer science algorithms, projectile launching related to a Mayan ballgame, guest speakers and tours. More summer camp details