CS Education Research Community: Meet Dr. Melissa Toohey

Dr. Melissa Toohey is the Curriculum Development Director at Seesaw, where she designs rigorous learning experiences that highlight diverse identities to help all students see themselves as computer scientists. Throughout her work she focuses on culturally relevant-sustaining pedagogy that promotes equity and access to computer science (CS) education for all.

Melissa’s passion for equitable education is rooted in her experience growing up as a Taiwanese-American female in a majority-white community. Melissa never saw her identity or culture included in educational experiences, which, as she states, resulted in personal shame and rejection of her culture. Her identity continued to be underrepresented in the CS field, teaching profession, and academia.

As a former Kindergarten and 1st grade teacher, Melissa taught in private, charter, and public school settings and focused on serving students from Title I and historically underrepresented backgrounds. Her greatest accomplishments include establishing and creating the first elementary school CS program in Watts, being awarded a $100,000 grant for 1:1 iPads to increase device accessibility, and helping her students discover their academic and non-academic strengths.

Melissa has led teams inside and outside the classroom to develop CS curriculum and support educators to integrate computer science into daily instruction. Seeing the immense disparities in computer science education and support for educators, Melissa earned her Doctorate from UCLA’s Educational Leadership Program, focusing on equitable Computer Science implementation in elementary school settings. (Go Bruins!)

CSEdResearch.org Connection

Dr. Toohey first found out about CSedResearch.org at CSEdCon 2022, where Drs. McGill and Reinking moderated a session (with fellow panelists Dr. Carol Fletcher and Dr. David Weintrop) focused on sharing key research findings that are applicable to administrators, stakeholders, and curriculum developers. Dr. Toohey stated, “I wish I knew about all of the resources at CSEdResearch.org while I was writing my dissertation! I did a lot of research looking for sources and prior studies, but struggled to find peer-reviewed articles and research around my dissertation topic: Equity in CS Education at the elementary school level. But, had I known about the CSEdResearch.org database, I would have not struggled as much.” 

Although Dr. Toohey only recently found out about our resources, she is excited to introduce our resources to her team at Seesaw. She stated, “since I lead a team to develop computer science curriculum for students nationally and internationally, I know the importance of understanding the research and applying it to my team’s practice. Many other CS platforms and curriculum don’t always take research into account, and I feel strongly that those in research/academia can synergistically work with those practicing and providing educational experiences to students.”

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