Today, we can honor Black History Month not just through slideshows and historical figures, but by highlighting Black people’s resilience and contributions in the very subjects we teach – computer science included.
During the month of February, many educators prepare to celebrate Valentine’s Day, President’s Day, and Black History Month with students across the United States. I remember as a teacher starting the conversation with a discussion about Mr. Carter G. Woodson and, more importantly, why he created Negro History Week. It was initially established to teach students the role African Americans played in American History. Today, we can honor Black History Month not just through slideshows and historical figures, but by highlighting Black people’s resilience and contributions in the very subjects we teach – computer science included.
With an emphasis on the Black Lives Matter movement around the world, the importance of addressing social injustices are being discussed not only in classrooms but in homes across our nation. Based on Google Trends data as of January 2021, people are searching for Black leaders (past and present) more than ever before. So the question is… how, as an educator, are you creating a more equitable computer science classroom? Black History Month is a time when we shouldn’t just remember the impact our past leaders have made to this country’s history but it should also be one of many opportunities when students – not only in your computer science classroom but across your school – should see people that look like them in STEM fields. While the pandemic has accelerated equity gaps in our communities, teaching students to program and see themselves as computer scientists can radically change a student’s path moving forward for the better.
To support teachers in facilitating meaningful conversations around Black History, I want to share a few resources that celebrate Black excellence not only during the month of February but all year long at schools and at home.
Remembering those who pioneered.
Let’s celebrate the life stories of some true trailblazers in the world of computer science. New Relic created an amazing infographic that highlights seven men and women who played an integral role in the development of the modern computer technology the world relies on today. Among these names, you might find familiar ones such as NASA physicist Katherine Johnson, whose life story is the basis of the critically acclaimed film Hidden Figures.
Learning about those who continue to pave the way.
Celebrating those young innovators who are using their voice and the power of the pen to address the inequities in STEM affecting them and the peers of their generation.
If there’s one resource you share with students year-round, it would be the Association for Computing Machinery‘s interview and responses from the African American fellows. The fellows shared about what inspired them to pursue careers in computing, how does underrepresentation shape the experiences of African Americans in computing, and what can be done to combat racial bias in computing and technology.
Lessons to teach students using the data.
There are numerous resources available to teach students about Black History Month but here are a few that go beyond the surface and address the inequities in STEM regarding race, ethnicity, gender and sexual identity. Learning for Justice (formerly Teaching Tolerance) has created resources for educators to share with students exploring social justice domains: identity, diversity, justice, and action.
Many of the people we are sharing with our students are still here with us. Why not connect with them so they can actually talk with your students! Look within your own CSTA Chapters and other STEM organizations and don’t forget your own school system. There are engineers, programmers, policy changers, and CS advocates currently working to change the inequities many of us still face in Computer Science, our communities, and even in our school systems today. Every district has at least one software engineer, programmer, or technician that you may be able to shed light on for your students to see themselves as. Having honest conversations about the social injustices they are facing is an important step in moving forward – especially as we celebrate those who have and continue to pave the way for each of us.
Professional development opportunities.
What are some ways you can learn more to prepare your students in your computer science classroom?
Amazon Future Engineer is hosting Social Justice Training as a part of their Your Voice is POWER curriculum. The 90-minute session will develop the mindsets and skills necessary to facilitate diversity, equity, and inclusion discussions with middle and high school students. All sessions are free and will be hosted through March. These workshops are in partnership with Georgia Tech.
CSTA is hosting an Equity in Action Summit, March 6th. It is a one-day virtual event bringing together K-12 CS teachers for a call to action to transform our approach to providing equitable Computer Science education rooted in justice.
Need additional resources? I have created a resource guide for educators to celebrate diversity in Computer Science. It is a growing document that will not only provide resources for Black History Month but all colors of STEM. Please refer back frequently as we will continue to be updated. Have any resources you would like to add to the list? There’s a link in the guide where you can submit!
About the Author
Shaina Glass is currently the Program Director of Technology Applications & STEM in Aldine Independent School District in Houston, Texas. She has been an educator for the last 16 years, educating students and teachers alike. She is a graduate from Morgan State University, receiving a B.A. in fine arts and holds a master’s degree from Sam Houston State University in curriculum and instruction with an emphasis in instructional technology. Shaina’s impact on STEM across school districts, and within the education community are noteworthy. She provides instructional support to CS teachers as well as coaches, co-teaches with, and facilitates hands-on professional development for Pre-K to 12th-grade teachers and, to date, has reached over 6,000 students in computer science. She also is currently the president of CSTA Greater Houston Chapter as well as a CS policy advocate and lead learner as a Code.org Regional Program Manager with Rice University School Mathematics Project.