Urban Arts Awarded $4 Million For Computer Science In Middle Schools
Written by Sue Gee   
Wednesday, 03 January 2024

The funds come from the U.S. Dept. of Education for a 5-year program to create an engaging, game-based, middle school Computer Science course using Microsoft Minecraft. It is intended to reach 3,450 middle schoolers (6th-8th grades) in New York and California.

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Urban Arts is a non-profit that promotes the message:

a quality education shouldn’t depend on a child’s zip code.

Its mission is teach underrepresented students the art and technology of game development through computer science, coding, animation, music, and storytelling.

Now 30 years old, Urban Arts has already served over 260,000 students across 150 schools in the United States and in 2023 expanded its reach from New York and North Carolina to seven new states: Arkansas, California, Florida, Georgia, Nebraska, Texas, and Washington State.

This is the third occasion on which it has been successful in competing for funds on offer from the EIR (Education Innovation and Research) administered by OESE (Office of Elementary and Secondary Education. In 2018, the EIR's second year, it was awarded funding of $3,929,364 over 5 years for its School of Interactive Arts (SIA) program, an evidence-based approach to teaching computer science and improving outcomes for high-need students, expected to reach 7,134 students in grades 9-12 in Title 1 schools. In 2021 it was awarded $3,978,496 over 5 years for "Game On: Teaching The AP CSP Through Game Design", an in-schol iteration of the SIA program to teaches computer science through video game design and coding to 2,400 Grade 10-12 students in 56 Title I schools in New York City and in rural areas within North Carolina.

The latest proposal has the title "Creative Coders: Middle School CS Pathways Through Game Design" and essentially adapts the Game On curriculum to be taught in middle schools.

Creative Coders is a year-long course, organized into five units of approximately 20 hours of coursework each. Specific skills are mastered and assessed through a series of Do It Now mini-projects; for example, students might learn coding skills such as how to make an object appear and move around on the screen, how to program certain keys to be user controls, etc. Each unit culminates with the completion of a Benchmark Project in which students must synthesize and utilize the skills learned throughout the unit; for example, students may be asked to combine that unit’s skills to create a Space Invaders-type game. In the course’s final unit, students work collaboratively to put together all the skills learned in order to design and program their own original video games on the Minecraft platform.

We have often reported on the suitability of Microsoft's  Minecraft Education Edition for teaching Computer Science skills in schools. We have covered its inclusion in Hour of Code activities and also looked at the Minecraft Computer Science curriculum.

In its latest proposal Urban Arts explains:

Because a large majority of children play video games regularly, teaching CS through video game design exemplifies CRT [Culturally Responsive Teaching], which has been linked to 'academic achievement, improved attendance, [and] greater interest in school.'

It also points out that using the familiar  Minecraft platform is advantageous in promoting student participation and engagement.   

The grant is again for 5 years and is for $3,999,988. 


More Information

Creative Coders: Middle School CS Pathways Through Game Design (PDF)

Education, Innovation and Research (EIR) Awards

Related Articles

Minecraft Hour Of Code

Computer Science Curriculum From Minecraft 

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Last Updated ( Wednesday, 03 January 2024 )