City schools, YSU team up to teach computer programming

Officials from Youngstown State University and the Youngstown City School District unveiled a new program that introduces Volney Rogers seventh and eighth-graders to computer programming and entrepreneurship. At the same time, YSU students and officials will collect data to evaluate the program’s effects on the younger students’ academics, attendance, discipline and engagement.

The Youngstown-Computing 4 Entrepreneurship teaches Scratch, which is a block-based coding program. They also use Sphero, a robot that will be programmed, and learn about entrepreneurship.

“This is a great opportunity for our students and we’re happy to work with YSU to offer it,” said CEO Krish Mohip of the Youngstown City School District. “Information-technology professionals are forecast to be among the most in-demand for the next several years.”

YSU President Jim Tressel said the collaboration is another example of the beneficial working relationship between the university and YCSD.

“We’re excited to work with the Youngstown City School District to offer these opportunities to both YSU students and students in the city school district,” he said. “Our two institutions have a great partnership and we’re both focused on what’s best for students and for the community.”

Joe Meranto, YCSD superintendent, praised the partnership and the skills and experience it’s providing students.

“It’s a great way for students to see how what they’re learning in class is relevant to their lives and how they can use that knowledge in the careers they’ll pursue as they get older.”

YSU’s Computer Science and Information Technology Department, part of the College of STEM, and the Ohio Youth Entrepreneurship Program, sponsored by the Center for Human Services Development, Beeghly College of Education, are creating the curriculum, structuring the activities and providing instructional support to Tracy Pinter, the Volney teacher who is leading the Y-C4E program.

“The Youth Entrepreneurship Program is pleased to collaborate with YSU's Department of Computer Science and Information Technologies to offer an innovative computer science program that not only teaches coding but will offer students an opportunity to learn about entrepreneurship,” said Julie Michael Smith, YSU’s youth entrepreneurship coordinator, who is supporting research activities and the entrepreneurship capstone project. “Today's students will pursue careers that will require agile thinking, innovation, creativity and problem-solving skills at a higher level and in increasingly dynamic careers, for jobs that may not even yet exist. The world of work is rapidly evolving and this program will help prepare Youngstown City School students for life-long success, regardless of their paths and career interests.”

John LaPlante, YCSD’s chief information officer, agrees.

"I'm just so excited to see this program launch,” he said. “A recent study by Apple estimated that there will be upwards of 500,000 unfilled computer programming jobs in the next 15 years. This program is the first step towards putting together a comprehensive program that shows our students a pathway to these jobs. I'm extremely grateful to everyone involved, and the partnership between Youngstown State University and the Youngstown City School District. I'm the most excited for our students and the opportunities this district continues to provide for them."

A YSU graduate assistant will lead the research data collection and analysis, under the guidance of Dr. Abdu Arslanyilmaz. Dr. Arslanyilmaz is the IT academic program coordinator for computer science and information technology at YSU and developed the robotics and coding curriculum.

“It is a unique collaboration between the Youngstown City Schools and YSU on a curricular program to improve seventh-grade students’ coding and entrepreneurship knowledge and skills at the same time conducting research to examine an innovative evaluation methodology with eye-tracking technology to test students’ learning, motivation and engagement.,” Dr. Arslanyilmaz explained.

Pinter’s math classes work in the program weekly and she sees students using their math skills as they write their programs.

“Teaching students to code within a math class brings an enhanced relevance and 21st Century skills into math,” she said. “Students are able to apply previous and current topics in math to writing their ‘programs,’ allowing students to get a head start into possible career opportunities beyond high school. Many students really are getting into it and they do not realize they are learning or using what they have learned while they are coding. It is amazing.”

Y-C4E also will teach the seventh and eighth-graders practical business skills including marketing, competition and business finance. They will write a plan and pitch their ideas this spring as their capstone project.