CT-STEM Project Teaches Chicago High Schoolers Computational Thinking

CT-STEM Project Teaches Chicago High Schoolers Computational Thinking

National Computer Science Education Week from December 9 to 15 calls attention to the need for computer science education to ensure highly skilled talent for the 21st-century workplace.


The Office of STEM Education Partnerships offers a curriculum and professional development in computational thinking (CT) for teachers of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM). This CT-STEM initiative, supported by the National Science Foundation, seeks to meet the growing demand in STEM-field careers.

“Computational thinking is an essential part of so much work that is done across a range of fields,” says Kai Orton, an assistant research professor at the School of Education and Social Policy who coordinates the CT-STEM project. “The major effort of the project is to cultivate computational thinking skills in a younger generation.”

With an increase in jobs requiring high-level computing skills, there is concern about a shortage of potential employees. "A select few graduate schools currently offer computationally focused graduate degrees, and very few high schools offer computer science courses, an additive problem in preparing the next generation of computational professionals," according to Orton.


“CT-STEM creates opportunities for students to explore and become excited about an area not usually part of the curriculum,” she says. 

New this year, all 10 of the schools in the CT-STEM program are Chicago Public Schools. Four of the schools are STEM schools designated by the mayor, all of which have corporate partnerships. These STEM schools are Lake View HIgh School, Sarah E. Goode STEM Academy, New Corliss High School and Chicago Vocational Career Academy. Additional schools are Alcott, Carver, Infinity, Roosevelt, Wells and Westinghouse. In all, CT-STEM is serving more than 1,000 Chicago Public Schools students.

Another new strategy of CT-STEM this year is whole-school implementation where multiple subjects are covered at the same site school. CT-STEM provides teachers with classroom-ready materials including lesson plans and assessment items that reflect the Next Generation Science Standards.

OSEP is working with Chicago mayor Rahm Emanuel in advancing computer science education in Chicago schools. Emanuel advocates for computational skills as a graduation requirement for Chicago Public Schools.

Principal investigators on the CT-STEM project are Michael Horn, Kemi Jona, Vicky Kalogera, Laura Trouille and Uri Wilensky. Along with research faculty member Kai Orton, Northwestern graduate students assisting with the project are Elham Beheshti and David Weintrop, and high school lead teachers are Ami Lefevre, Tim Miller and Mark Vondracek.

The CT-STEM project is supported by the National Science Foundation under NSF grant CNS-1138461. However, any opinions, findings, conclusions and/or recommendations are those of the investigators and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Foundation.

By Marilyn Sherman
Last Modified: 3/7/17