Posted by Megan Bowen on Jul 13, 2021
A girl sitting on the edge of a rock with a fishing pole, overlooking a lake, considering computer science outdoors
As many of us head into summer, especially after this past year of remote/hybrid learning, a lot of folx, including myself, are looking to disconnect from devices and get outside.

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As many of us head into summer, especially after this past year of remote/hybrid learning, a lot of folx, including myself, are looking to disconnect from devices and get outside. While it is important to take that time and just be one with nature, I want to encourage you to consider three things while you explore the outdoors:
  1. How might Computer Science and the outdoors intersect?
  2. What are you doing to make the outdoors a more equitable welcoming space?
  3. How could you use Computer Science to create more equitable outdoor spaces?
Outline of student through the trees, fishing into a pondWhile these two areas seem as though they are the complete opposite of one another, you may be surprised to find out that CS and the outdoors share many of the same barriers for marginalized groups of people; lack of access, visibility, exposure, and resources. Did you know that white, educated, upper-middle-class men are more likely than any other group to participate in outdoor activities (2019 Outdoor Participation Report)? This creates a perception and reality that is shared with CS, that these areas are only for white men. Also, as to be expected and similarly to CS, overall marginalized group participation in outdoor activities has been very slow to increase. Marginalized groups are more likely to participate in activities that are more passively engaged with the outdoors, like walking, running, or biking. While white folx are more likely to participate in activities like camping and fishing, which are more immersive and engaged with the outdoors (2019 Outdoor Participation Report).
The outdoors, however, have had a history, unlike CS that has intrinsically prevented marginalized people from engaging in outdoor activity. Historically, the outdoors have been unsafe for many of these groups. From the beginning, Colonialism created a system in which it was acceptable to remove people from the lands they were connected to. This dispossession of land was rooted in violence for the First Nations people. The historical trauma of slavery and the Jim Crow era of lynchings that were inseparable from their setting of the outdoors forced people of color into distressing and untrustworthy relationships with nature. It wasn’t until the Civil Rights Act that Black people were allowed to access public recreation spaces, including state and national parks. Even today, marginalized groups have often been left out of conversations around the conservation movement (Rowland-Shea, Doshi, Edberg, and Fanger 2020).
Line of students wearing matching shirts practicing computer science outdoors, walking along a trailBy recognizing inequities and injustices, such as these, for marginalized students in other spaces, we can actually use CS as a vehicle to create equity in ALL spaces. CS does not need to be just about coding or programming, it can also help introduce students to areas that were previously inaccessible to them. By using CS to introduce students to outdoor education, I have been able to increase achievement, develop a sense of belonging in both CS and the outdoors, and provide students with the safety to explore a space that has told them that they are not welcome.
In the course I developed, students learned about 3D Printing and Design in the context of fishing. Students created fishing lures that utilize the physics of floating, sinking, and moving. They iterated through the design process, culminating in a full-day fishing trip to test their lures where they completely disengaged from technology.
My class was half students of color and the majority of all students were on IEPs or 504s. This specific iteration of the course, with the integration of the outdoors, increased performance from the previous year by 20% with 100% of the students passing. The course led to a 30% increase in enrollment of students of color in CS and a 500% increase in enrollment of young women in CS, all of whom were young women of color.
By changing the context in which CS was taught, I was not only able to achieve a more equitable CS classroom but also able to promote equity in the outdoors by giving students access and visibility while fighting internalized perceptions and historical traumas of the outdoors. 
CS has the opportunity to be the mode for achieving equity in so many fields. The next time you are out for a run, taking a hike, swimming in a public pool, working in the garden, or hanging in a park I want you to consider what you are doing to make those spaces more equitable for our students and how we can use CS to achieve that equity. I want to challenge you to see CS as the method in which we can achieve broader equity. How will you use your expertise to provide students with a multitude of experiences that will open doors to opportunities that they have been shut out of? 

About the Author

Headshot of Megan BowenMegan Bowen, a proud Mexican-American, has been an Educational Technology Specialist for ten years. She’s currently the Technology Coordinator and Integration Specialist while also teaching AP Computer Science, Digital Citizenship, Film and Video, and 3D Design at Salem Academy Charter School in Salem, Massachusetts. She also advises after school clubs like Makerspace, Robotics, and S.A.G.A (Sexuality and Gender Alliance). Megan graduated from Grand Valley State University with a B.A. in English and sociology, and an M.Ed. in educational technology. Her master’s thesis focused on increasing the number of women in STEM fields. As a member of the queer community, Megan was accepted into the 2015 White House LGBTQ Tech and Innovation Summit to collaborate in identifying technology and computer science needs as they relate to the LGBTQ community. In her free time, Megan plays roller derby for Boston and goes on adventures with her cat Scout.