ASMSA to house coding initiative in Little Rock Technology Park

7 months ago

The Little Rock Technology Park supports the burgeoning technology scene in Central Arkansas by providing affordable space in a collaborative community-building facility. The Arkansas School for Mathematics, Sciences and the Arts will soon join that scene as part of its mission to develop the state’s emerging talent in science and innovation.

ASMSA will add an off-campus location in the Little Rock Technology Park. The park will house offices for the school’s expanding Coding Arkansas’ Future initiative, including space for the school’s team of computer science education specialists. ASMSA’s suite will include additional space for admissions and institutional advancement professionals to also utilize when working with stakeholders in the Central Arkansas region.

ASMSA Director Corey Alderdice said it is exciting for the school to have an opportunity to support the authority’s efforts while expanding its own computer science program.

“For more than two decades, ASMSA has maintained leadership roles in supporting STEM education in Arkansas,” Alderdice said. “Pairing our school and the Coding Arkansas’ Future initiative alongside the state’s innovation community and emerging startups with a need for talented young Arkansans is an opportunity to play an even larger role in expanding access to coding, computer science, and entrepreneurship within our curriculum and educator development programs.”

ASMSA introduced the Coding Arkansas’ Future initiative in April 2015 in response to Gov. Asa Hutchinson placing an emphasis on computer science education in Arkansas. In February 2015, Hutchinson signed Act 187 into law requiring all public and charter high schools in the state to offer computer science education courses beginning in the 2015-16 academic year.

Coding Arkansas’ Future provides expanded computer science education courses for schools across Arkansas taught by ASMSA faculty through its digital learning program. ASMSA also provides training, support and mentoring for teachers in an expanded program, encouraging school districts across the state to develop their own computer science faculty through a professional development model led by ASMSA’s computer science education specialist.

The first two years have focused mostly on providing resources for high school students and teachers. Beginning in fall 2017, the program will expand to middle school students and teachers to meet the new “Coding Block” standards. The number of faculty members teaching courses will be expanded from one to four.

The program has been successful in preparing Arkansas educators to meet requirements to receive computer science endorsements. Program highlights include:
• Building teacher capacity at the local level.  A fall 2016 survey of newly licensed high school teachers in Arkansas showed ASMSA played a role in preparing half of the teachers to earn certification.
• Continuing growth in number of courses and professional development offered. The first two cohorts of teachers were 16 teachers each. Current registration for next year’s courses in Computer Science 1/2 and Computer Science 3/4 includes 50 teachers.
• Providing coding outreach sessions for students and teachers both on ASMSA’s campus and around the state, including summer camps, #g1rlsc0de encouraging female coders, app inventor sessions, conference breakout sessions and other events.
• Piloting the United States implementation of the United Kingdom-based Apps for Good program. The experience empowering Arkansas students to solve authentic local problems by creating mobile apps.

Daniel Moix has served as the school’s computer science education specialist, guiding the initiative through its first two years. He said the opportunity to open a space within the Tech Park will provide even more opportunities for the students and teachers he works with throughout the state.

“Education in the 21st century often calls on students to work collaboratively to solve authentic problems, building and reinforcing technical skills,” he said. “Teaching in this way not only reinforces digital literacy, but also arms students with skills employers demand such as teamwork, problem solving, confidence and resilience. By sharing space with Arkansas tech entrepreneurs, there are limitless opportunities for Coding Arkansas’ Future educators and partners to collide and collaborate.”

It’s central location in the state is also an advantage, Moix said. “For smaller professional development efforts and many meetings, this location is more convenient for our partner teachers to reach,” he said.

Brent Birch, executive director of the park, said the addition of ASMSA to the Tech Park is a benefit for both students and companies.

“The addition of ASMSA to the space creates another conduit into the vital pipeline of future tech-focused entrepreneurs and talent,” Birch said. “As one of the premier public, residential high schools in the country, the ability for leadership and students to tap into real world experiences going on in the Tech Park facility will only enhance the state’s ability to cultivate and retain Arkansas’ brightest and best.”

The Tech Park is an effort to foster economic growth and regional competitiveness by providing a stimulating environment — including facilities, counseling, programing and financing advice — for existing and new technology-based ventures.

Phase 1 of the facility provides nearly 38,000 square feet of professional office space, conference rooms and meeting spaces for tech-focused entrepreneurs, startups and established companies, said Brent Birch, executive director of the park. The first phase opened March 1 and currently houses 23 companies. A grand opening ceremony for the facility will be held April 24.

The Little Rock Technology Park is located in the 400 block of Main Street in the heart of Little Rock’s Creative Corridor. Its operation is overseen by the Little Rock Technology Park Authority, a public corporation of the state of Arkansas governed by a seven-person board appointed by the project sponsors — the University of Arkansas at Little Rock, University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences and the City of Little Rock.

For more information on the Little Rock Technology Park, visit lrtechpark.com.

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