Near Peer Pedagogies for Culturally Sustaining Computer Science and Mathematics

Journal of Computer Science Integration, Volume: 6 Issue: 1
Authors: Cliff Freeman, Eli Tucker-Raymond, Juan Gutierrez


In this study, College STEM Literacy Workers act as co-teachers in 9th and 10th grade classrooms alongside mathematics teachers as they both learn to integrate a 30-hour integrated computer science/mathematics curriculum. As part of the curriculum for educator learning, we adapted the Algebra Project’s “Model of Excellence” for culturally relevant-sustaining pedagogies.


The Young People’s Project (YPP) is collaborating with an urban district in the Northeast US to increase math teacher capacity for teaching computer science (CS). In this study, college STEM Literacy Workers (CSLWs) work in 9th and 10th grade classrooms as co-teachers alongside mathematics teachers as they both learn to integrate Bootstrap: Algebra, a 30-hour CS curriculum into the existing class curriculum. This approach, integrating CS into classes everyone has to take–Algebra 1 and Geometry–and using near-peer teaching and learning as part of a culturally sustaining pedagogy, helps address issues of who has access to CS–where access is defined as opportunities to learn based in culturally relevant-sustaining practices, not just exposure. In this paper, we borrow a mathematics education framework for culturally relevant pedagogical practices from The Algebra Project, called the “model of excellence” (MOE). We adapted the MOE to our work in which there are multiple teachers, not just one, and the content is not a single domain, like mathematics, but is integrated mathematics and CS. As such, the result is an adapted framework that can inform culturally relevant-sustaining learning spaces that include multiple educators, including intergenerational teams.

We are working in mathematics and CS because we have an important role to play in ensuring Black and poor students get the learning opportunities they need to thrive in today’s 21st century democracy and Information Age economy. As we Build Capacity in Computer Science, we channel the strength, method, and lessons of the African proverb “It takes a village to raise a child.” It is our belief that every community has the responsibility to educate its children. We also believe that expecting parents to possess all the necessary resources within their household so that their children get the most comprehensive education needed for their generation is unrealistic. In the common event that parents do not possess the necessary skill sets or resources to instill disciplinary concepts or ideals in their children, they look to trusted and reputable individuals in their community for support. The status quo of the schools we work in lack opportunities for CS learning because there aren’t any institutional structures such as dedicated teacher preparation, ongoing professional development, or investment made by school leadership to dedicate class time for CS. In school-based contexts that do not have the optimal educational infrastructure for CS instruction, under a “it takes a village to raise a child” theoretical lens, teachers are the parents who want their children to get the skills they need but remain obstructed as they do not possess the resources to do so. Our new proposed framework for building capacity is a Model of Distributed Excellence (MODE) that utilizes CSLWs as the trusted and reputable individuals in the community who help to provide the necessary content mastery and generational relevance needed to bridge the gap towards building capacity in CS education.

Literature Review

CS learning opportunities in schools have long been restricted both in what schools CS is offered and who is able to enroll in those courses if they do (, 2021). Furthermore, once in classrooms, CS pedagogy emphasizes procedures at the expense of relationship building, a strategy that can alienate girls and students from communities of color (e.g., Ren, 2022).

To date, most research on CS and mathematics integration has been focused on issues of access and how researchers and practitioners have created CS/Computational Thinking experiences through culturally responsive pedagogical approaches (Serrano Corkin et al., 2020; Eglash et al., 2013). While researchers reported that such interventions have had a positive impact on students’ perceptions of themselves as possible CS doers, access to CS activities and interventions is only one dimension of culturally relevant-sustaining pedagogy.

We argue that the idea of access to CS includes access to pedagogies that are culturally sustaining (Kapor Center, 2021). That is, to be truly accessible, learning opportunities must also honor and support young people’s intellectual, linguistic, and social repertoires of practice (Gutiérrez & Rogoff, 2003; Paris & Alim, 2014). For example, a group of researchers in CS education at Howard University found success in teaching an introduction to programming and graph theory course using the Washington DC Metro System map as a way to build on learners’ existing funds of knowledge (Mejias et al., 2018).

Our work adds to the literature on CS integration by offering an alternative pedagogical model that includes young people as educators. In presenting the model, we describe the opportunities and tensions that arose.

Theoretical Framework

We argue that YPP’s approach to CS integration into mathematics classrooms is culturally relevant-sustaining and is based on three central commitments. The first commitment draws on a set of competencies that are part of The Algebra Project’s MOE (Cobb, 2001). Second, we draw on our and others’ experience with near-peer pedagogies. Last, we invest in a model of distributed expertise in classrooms. Together these commitments frame our orientation to creating culturally sustainable integrated CS and mathematics learning experiences in high school classrooms that resonate with the Kapor Center’s definition of culturally relevant-sustaining CS pedagogy. While the Kapor Center framework focuses on the teacher’s instructional practice, the design, and their use of resources among other foci, our work expands who can be a teacher in the first place. We connect more directly to the Kapor Center framework for culturally relevant-sustaining CS in the discussion section.

Model of excellence (MOE)

The MOE was created through The Algebra Project’s Trainer of Trainers (TOT) program to address the lack of feedback available to mathematics teachers on their development (Cobb, 2001). Founded by Robert “Bob” Moses, The Algebra Project is a non-for-profit organization that uses mathematics literacy as an organizing tool to guarantee quality public school education for all children in the United States of America. In the perspective of The Algebra Project, culturally relevant-sustaining means prioritizing the cultural, intellectual and social resources students bring to their encounters with mathematical symbols and signs in mathematics classrooms (Moses et al., 2009).

Jim Burruss (TOT Developer) and his staff at McBur Inc. organized interviews with 20 Algebra Project teachers and 27 mathematics trainers with the objective of understanding how the philosophy and goals of the Algebra Project were exhibited in their work (Cobb, 2001). These teachers and trainers were selected through a nominating process whereby the Algebra Project network was asked to submit names of people who were outstanding in their roles. Over the course of two years, a series of meetings were held to conduct thematic analysis of the 47 transcribed interviews by a large, diverse population of people from within the Algebra Project network. Their goal was to find a consensus for the question: “What does Algebra Project quality teaching look like?” Outlined in Table 1 is the resulting four competencies of quality teaching that make up the Model of Excellence.