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The Game Of Life Workshop Reaching Out To High School Students With Disabilities

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2006 Annual Conference & Exposition


Chicago, Illinois

Publication Date

June 18, 2006

Start Date

June 18, 2006

End Date

June 21, 2006



Conference Session

Engineering in High School

Tagged Division

K-12 & Pre-College Engineering

Page Count


Page Numbers

11.1293.1 - 11.1293.23



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Paper Authors


Tammy VanDeGrift University of Portland

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Tammy VanDeGrift is an assistant professor at the University of Portland. She earned a Bachelors degree in math and computer science at Gustavus Adolphus College. She completed a Masters and PhD in Computer Science and Engineering at the University of Washington, Seattle. Her research interests include computer science education, educational technology, and media distribution systems.

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Sheryl Burgstahler University of Washington

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Dr. Sheryl Burgstahler is an affiliate associate professor and directs DO-IT (Disabilities, Opportunities, Internetworking and Technology) and Accessible Technology Services at the University of Washington. DO-IT promotes the success of students with disabilities in postsecondary programs and careers, employing technology as an empowering too.

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Richard Ladner University of Washington

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Richard E. Ladner, Boeing Professor in Computer Science and Engineering, graduated from St. Mary's College of California with a B.S. in 1965 and received a Ph.D. in mathematics from the University of California, Berkeley in 1971, at which time he joined the faculty of the University of Washington. Since 1994, as part of the DO-IT Project, he has held a one week summer workshop for disabled high school students encouraging them to pursue college programs and careers in science, mathematics, and engineering. He is a recipient of the 2004 Presidential Award for Excellence in Science, Mathematics and Engineering Mentoring (PAESMEM).

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Annemarie Poginy University of Portland

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Annemarie Poginy has cerebral palsy and is a freshman as the University of Portland. She has participated as a scholar and an intern in the DO-IT program for the past three years.

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NOTE: The first page of text has been automatically extracted and included below in lieu of an abstract

The Game of Life Workshop - Reaching Out To High School Students With Disabilities Abstract

Since engineers and computer scientists build tools and provide solutions for diverse audiences, those who practice engineering should represent a diverse population. Among the several underrepresented groups in engineering and computer science are people with disabilities. Furthermore, people with disabilities pursue post-secondary education at a lower rate than their non-disabled peers. The combination of these factors suggest the importance of outreach efforts to help students with disabilities transition to and succeed in college and careers related to engineering and computer science.

This paper describes a week-long workshop related to computer science that is part of a one- week-long summer session of a multiple-year program for high school students with disabilities. The program and specific workshop have been offered every summer since 1994. The overall goal of the computer science workshop is to build confidence in the students as they create and build successful programs to solve specific problems. We evaluate the program by answering the questions: Can high school students with disabilities, and with little or no programming experience, be successful innovators and implementers of a week-long programming project? and How does workshop participation impact students’ futures and confidence? We demonstrate success of the computer science workshop by providing examples of students’ projects, a report from one workshop participant who is currently enrolled in college and a co-author of this paper, and data collected from participants over time.

The computer science workshop focuses on programming cellular automata, in the form of the Game of Life. Most workshop participants had no prior programming experience, yet many have used computers and assistive technologies. The Game of Life platform is appropriate for a program like this for several reasons: (i) it is not a typical introduction to programming, so even students who have programmed before learn something new, (ii) few actions need to be programmed but the reasoning can be challenging, (iii) the platform can be used for diverse projects related to games, simulations, graphics, and image processing.

In addition to describing the structure of the programming projects, the paper addresses several key aspects for making the workshop a success. First, the ratio of staff to students is one-to-one, giving each student direct access to a mentor and guide. Second, the Game of Life platform is flexible enough to provide every student the opportunity to work on a self-directed project. In the past, students have completed projects related to cellular automata theory, predator-prey games, image processing, and creating tactile maps for blind students. Letting students set their own course gives them ownership in their projects while relieving competition among students. Finally, students present their work to their peers and families during the final day of the workshop which provides external motivation for completing projects.

This paper serves to disseminate the workshop model and key properties to other colleges and universities so that engineering and computer science may attract a more diverse population. We

VanDeGrift, T., & Burgstahler, S., & Ladner, R., & Poginy, A. (2006, June), The Game Of Life Workshop Reaching Out To High School Students With Disabilities Paper presented at 2006 Annual Conference & Exposition, Chicago, Illinois. 10.18260/1-2--335

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