Office of University Communications & Marketing

UNA Awarded National Science Foundation Grant

Oct. 7, 2019



Michelle Eubanks, UNA, at meubanks@una.edu, 256-606-2033 or 256-765-4392 

FLORENCE, AL – The University of North Alabama has been awarded $671,966 as part of a grant by the National Science Foundation STEM+Computing to fund the Collaborative Partnership to Teach Mathematical Reasoning through Computer Programming. This is the largest federally-funded award, single-allocation research project on record at UNA. 

The Collaborative Research Project is led by UNA faculty, including Dr. Cindy Stenger, a Mathematics Professor; Dr. Janet Truitt Jenkins, Associate Professor of Computer Science; and Dr. Jessica Stovall, an Associate Professor of Mathematics. The team will investigate whether computer programming is effective in teaching and learning in seventh- and eighth-grade classrooms. 

“Our project is an opportunity for under-reached students in our region to attain a deeper level of understanding in computer science and math,” said Dr. Stenger, Principal Investigator on the project. “And it contributes to the ongoing surge of excellent STEM opportunities in this area. 

The project is designed for students who have no background in programming or formal mathematical argumentation. Its purpose is to help students understand and interpret general expressions, which are key in the Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) disciplines. In this study, students will learn to write mini computer programs and learn to recognize and recover general behaviors from the code. Then, using abstract mathematical language, they will describe the behaviors. Along with a knowledge of programming and mathematical language, students will be better prepared through gained experience, skills, and confidence in programming as a tool. 

“Our project has the potential to pave the way for all student participants, including those currently underrepresented in computer science, to succeed in future STEM studies,” said Co-Principal Investigator Dr. Stovall. “We are excited to continue our work with local teachers and students, as well as reaching a broader audience with the help of this NSF grant.” 

In addition to student participation, teachers play key roles in this study. Once the instructional model is refined by the researchers into a design-based implementation approach, teachers will be trained by a four-step model and learn how the model builds mental frameworks that are necessary for generalization. After training, teachers will incorporate the model into their classrooms with support from the UNA team. The effects of the study will be determined in an experimental pilot study. 

Earlier this year, Alabama’s Legislature took steps toward working STEM-related content into the K-12 curriculum, which is something Dr. Jenkins said marries well with their grant. 

“I am most excited about the timing of the award for this project,” said Dr. Jenkins, who is also a Co-Principal Investigator. “The Alabama Legislature has approved HB 216, which mandates computer science instruction in K-12 in all Alabama schools by 2022-2023. Our project brings computational thinking straight to the mathematics classroom, making access to computational thinking a reality for all students.” 

SRI International will serve as research methodologists on the project and Horizon Research Inc., will serve as the evaluator. 

About The University of North Alabama 

The University of North Alabama is an accredited, comprehensive regional state university offering undergraduate and graduate degree programs through the colleges of Arts and Sciences, Business, Education and Human Sciences, and the Anderson College of Nursing and Health Professions. Occupying a 130-acre campus in a residential section of Florence, Alabama, UNA is located within a four-city area that also includes Muscle Shoals, Sheffield, and Tuscumbia. UNA Athletics, a renowned collegiate athletics program with seven (7) Division II National Championships, is now a proud member of the NCAA Division I’s ASUN Big South Conference. The University of North Alabama is an equal opportunity institution and does not discriminate in the admission policy on the basis of race, color, sex, religion, disability, age, or national origin. For more: www.una.edu and www.una.edu/unaworks