Professional headshot photos of BHSSC Learning Specialists for the division of Compass Partners in Learning Rebecca Myers and Nicole Uhre-Balk

SD Educators Gain National Recognition in Computer Science Education

Rapid City, SD—Black Hills Special Services Cooperative (BHSSC) Learning Specialists Rebecca Myers and Nicole Uhre-Balk are among a group of South Dakota educators who recently published an article in a national computer science journal

Myers and Uhre-Balk are K-12 Learning Specialists for Compass Partners in Learning, a division of BHSSC. They collaborated with university researchers and K-12 teachers to write the article, “Strengthening Computational Thinking within Upper Elementary Classrooms: A Strategy for Broadening Participation in Computer Science,” published by the Association for Computing Machinery (ACM) Digital Library.

Black Hills State University researchers, Dr. Ben Sayler and Hannah Caffee, authored the work with contributions by Myers, Uhre-Balk, and educators from Belle Fourche and Hot Springs School Districts, and the Sanford Underground Research Facility.

The article describes a research project involving twenty 4th and 5th grade teachers from eight school districts in western South Dakota. One of the project’s goals was to boost interest and confidence in computer science at the elementary grade level. 

Rebecca Myers says that it has been a privilege getting to work with the project partners to witness the impact computational thinking (CT) has had on learners. “We have a very strong team that has worked together to promote and create computer science exposure to learners in an upper elementary setting,” says Myers.

Nicole Uhre-Balk adds that equipping students with the vocabulary of CT helps them to navigate and articulate their problem-solving processes. “Teachers are using the CT framework in math, science, English, and even with reflecting on emotions. The hope is that students will feel more comfortable taking computer science classes in the future. The teachers have been enthusiastic, collaborative partners and have taken the CT in their classrooms to amazing levels,” says Uhre-Balk.

BHSSC Deputy Director and Co-Principal Investigator on the project, Dr. Pam Lange, says, “It has been an honor to collaborate with Black Hills State University on this project and witness the positive impact it is having on both teachers and students in South Dakota. We look forward to continuing this work in partnership with BHSU and through our professional development offerings to school districts.”

The BHSU Project Team and partners plan to continue their research in future computer science and K-12 education projects. The next opportunity is hosting a three-day introductory computational thinking workshop for K-8 teachers that will be held this summer. To learn more, visit: Creating Powerful Problem Solvers with Computational Thinking:  A Fun & Friendly Introduction.