To expose high school students with disabilities to computer sciences and related careers, the North Central Florida High School High Tech program undertook the Computer Science Exploration Project. The Project offered a series of nine hands-on events. An event was held once a month and included visits to:

  • Florida State University’s High Magnetic Field Laboratory – During this visit students participated in hands-on demonstrations, self-guided tours, and visits with scientists to learn how computer technology related to the research being done in the lab.
  • Palm Bay High School – At this event participants were introduced to a competition robotics team. Students participating on the team explained the process they went through to create their robots and demonstrated their robots.
  • Sid Martin Biotech Incubator – Participants in this event were shown how computer science technology is used to enhance BioTech research.
  • New Horizons Computer Learning Center – Over the course of two visits participants learned about the school and the computer technology programs they offer, as well as the technology they use to implement their online classes.
  • Naval Air Station Jacksonville (NAS JAX) – During this event students were allowed to use the flight simulators that naval pilots utilize for training and to experience the amazing technology used to create real-world simulations in a safe environment.
  • University of Florida’s Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering Department – The University of Florida’s robotics teams and education programs opened up their lab to demonstrate their creations and explain the technology behind them.
  • GWIZ (a local science museum) – Here students were introduced to the Lego Mindstorms programmable robots. During the remaining activities in the series they programmed the robots so that they could complete specific tasks.

Evaluation results of the Computer Science Exploration Project suggest that the forty-one participants developed a greater interest in and understanding of computer science and likelihood of pursuing a career in computer science. On a Likert scale of 1 (lowest) to 5 (highest) post-event surveys 80% of the participants reported that they enjoyed the program activities and 31% reported considering a career in the computer science field. A comparison of the pre- and post-surveys revealed a 20% increase in students’ awareness, interest, and appreciation of computer science and associated career fields. The students who attended the majority of the events expressed a greater understanding of computer science. A few students reported a change in their intended career path as a result of their participation; one student who was planning a career as a professional football player changed his mind to pursue aviation after the NAS JAX trip while another student switched from the medical field to computer technology after the robotics and New Horizons events.

The Computer Science Exploration Project is a promising practice for helping students with disabilities gain a better understanding and appreciation of computer science and related career fields.

For more information about this project visit the North Central Florida High School High Tech Computer Science Exploration Project.

This activity was been funded by a minigrant from The Computer Science Collaboration Project (CSCP). CSCP is partially funded by a grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF), Division of Computer and Network Systems, Broadening Participation in Computing (CNS-0940646).