Project Profile

The Bessie Coleman Project - Using Computer Modeling and Flight Simulation to Create STEM Pathways


This strategies project advances efforts of the Innovative Technology Experiences for Students and Teachers (ITEST) program to better understand and promote practices that increase students' motivations and capacities to pursue careers in the fields of science, technology, engineering, or mathematics (STEM). Specifically, the project will use computer modeling and flight simulations as mechanisms to provide unique entrées to STEM and STEM careers for predominately underrepresented elementary and middle school students in the Rocky Mountain and Mid-Atlantic regions of the United States. Named for the first African-American woman to receive a pilot's license, the Bessie Coleman Project builds on extant knowledge and understandings of complex systems in aviation and aerospace to develop, implement, and test the impact of a culturally specific, place-based, thematic curriculum and extension activities on youth engaged in informal STEM learning programs related to computer science. This focus on the intersectionality of computer science learning and 21st century information and communications technology (ICT) skill preparation is a national priority at the forefront of educational reform. Research has shown strong evidence that computer coding can motivate student learning and broaden student opportunities in STEM. Likewise, research has shown encouraging benefits of students learning coding as a pathway to develop computational thinking skills. K-12 schools, academic institutions, and informal STEM education sectors across the country are particularly interested in effective strategies to prepare teachers and students in computer science and coding, particularly youth from underrepresented groups in STEM. This project explores the potential and impact of the Bessie Coleman Project as an effective approach to address this national need among three critically underrepresented groups in computer science in four different states. The findings will advance knowledge applicable for both formal and informal contexts.

Over the three-year project duration, approximately 1,000 rural and urban elementary and middle school students will engage in a broad range of project activities - from 3D computer modeling and game design (grades 4-5), to flight simulation using drones and Raspberry Pi (grades 6-8). The students are predominately of Native American, African-American/Black, Hispanic and Asian descent, participating in after school computer science clubs and summer camps at project sites in Colorado, Maryland, Pennsylvania, and Wyoming. Expeditions to air and space museums, opportunities to engage with field experts, guest speakers, and other extended learning opportunities are integral to the program. Forty-two classroom teachers and 12 informal educators and staff from Boys & Girls Clubs and Makerspaces will receive training to implement and facilitate the program in their site locations. An iterative research design is used to investigate the three overarching research questions: (a) What learning experiences involving emerging technologies effectively enable diverse populations of students to gain familiarity and relevant competencies with these technologies, and what factors influence the outcomes of the learning experiences? (b) What culturally-responsive instructional and curricular practices and models, including place-based education, used by teachers enhance student understanding of and interest in STEM occupations, and what factors influence the outcomes of the practices and models? and (c) In what roles and in what ways do business and industry workforce members (i.e., STEM professionals) motivate students to become aware of, interested in, and prepared for STEM careers in the STEM workforce and support teachers in efforts to promote STEM workforce awareness and interest? Formal and summative evaluations are carried out by an Advisory Board and an external evaluator. The research and project findings are locally and nationally disseminated through libraries, a resource guide, a blog, community involvement, conference presentations and journal publications. Ultimately, the project endeavors to increase students' computational thinking abilities, STEM interest and motivation, and persistence in STEM career pathways, especially in computer science.

This award reflects NSF's statutory mission and has been deemed worthy of support through evaluation using the Foundation's intellectual merit and broader impacts review criteria.


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Principal Investigator(s)
Co-Principal Investigator(s)
Primary Contact


Award Number
Project Duration
2018 - 2021
University of Wyoming, .
Project Work State
Target Gradespan(s)
Elementary school (K-5)
Middle school (6-8)
Project Setting(s)
Informal Education
Geographic Location(s)
Project Status
Additional Disciplines
Computer Science - general
Additional Target Participants
English Learners
Students eligible for Free/reduced price lunch
Students with disabilities
American Indian or Alaskan Native
Black or African American
Hispanic or Latino