Almost everyone who has had a summer break from school can understand the challenge of summer learning loss, in which students fail to retain concepts learned during a previous school year. This summer, some local kids avoided losing their recently-acquired math skills through a summer enrichment program offered by Bootstrap, a computer science literacy curriculum used worldwide that's directed by three members of Brown CS: Kathi Fisler (adjunct faculty), Shriram Krishnamurthi (faculty), and Emmanuel Schanzer (staff). Because Bootstrap teaches students to design and build a videogame while learning algebra, it has huge potential for use in the summer, but until this year, its creators hadn't envisioned it being used for this purpose.
The story begins in February, when Kathi and Shriram went to Newport, Rhode Island, to give a talk on Bootstrap as part of Governor Raimondo's recent #CS4RI initiative. At the event, they met Joe Devine of Bridge Technical Talent, an IT staffing firm, who noted that Bootstrap might be a good solution for the summer learning loss problem.
"It sounded like a cool idea," Shriram remembers, "but we knew there were a lot of moving pieces that we needed to get in place before we could get started. 'We'll do it some future year,' I thought." But the two continued to exchange email, and Joe began scouring his network of contacts to find potential coordinators for the program. A few students at Rhode Island College were interested, but eventually were pulled in other directions; the Providence After School Alliance (PASA) was unfortunately unable to assist.
"We were zero for two," Shriram says, but their luck was about to change. Susan Ahlstrom and Luke Driver of the Academy for Career Exploration were eager to help, and they provided their Harrison Street location in Providence for the program's use. The last of Shriram's moving pieces, the all-important coordinators who would lead the effort, was still in the air, but it was about to land nicely.
Sam Dooman and Caroline Malin-Mayor, two Brown undergraduates, were taking a course on educational reform. They needed a case study for a project and asked Shriram for an interview. "They didn't know that I was interviewing them," he laughs. At the end of the meeting, he slid an ostensibly innocent question into the conversation: So, what are you doing this summer?
By the end of the conversation, Shriram had found his coordinators. With financial assistance from David Targan, Brown's Associate Dean of the College for Science Education, and Besenia Rodriguez, the Senior Associate Dean for Curriculum, the last piece was in place. Before long, students were working their way through the Bootstrap curriculum, creating their own computer games and using algebraic concepts to program them. Of the 21 kids who enrolled, 17 stayed in the program, and 13 completed all assignments, an impressive number for students who may face transportation challenges and other barriers to participation.
"We didn't expect this to happen in 2016," Shriram says, "Sam and Caroline did an amazing job and achieved really meaningful results. The five-way partnership of Joe Devine, ACE, Bootstrap, Brown University, and Brown CS showcases what Rhode Island is capable of, and we're looking forward to making the program even bigger in 2017."