Computer Science is one of the hottest topics in education, but why? Why is everyone pushing so hard to make CS an integral part of every student's education? As a "tech guy" I am clearly on board with the need to have more Computer Science in our schools both as specific classes and integrated into other subjects, but technology is such a small piece of all the skill set that go into CS. As many other advocates will tell you the benefits of CS for students goes far beyond the obvious of preparing students for a new and emerging work place, complex problem solving, math skills, design thinking, project-based learning, creativity, and team work just to name a few.
Looking to find ways CS can be instituted and integrated into our own school, my fellow integrator and I attended a Colorado-based Computer Science Task force that brought together many great minds from across the state in various fields in and out of education. Though we learned a lot and made many great connections with people who are doing great things, one thing that became abundtly clear was that there is no one road map to getting computer science accessible by our students.
Many districts are doing some great things, like St. Vrain, which has established an amazing Innovation Center that allows for students across the district to really have a meaningful experience with STEM education by partnering with industry to help get students working on real-world projects to solve real problems. Cherry Creek also has a great STEM program that helps produce students who, as explained by one Google employee, have several of the necessary skill sets, including algorithims and structures, that Google looks for in their own engineering interns. These are just among a few schools in Colorado that are making great strides in CS, but how can we create consistency and follow-through in all our districts to give each and every CO student a chance to experience computer science?
This will take work locally, statewide, and nationally to get CS the recognition it needs and deserves to push decision-makers and constituents to help prioritize computer science in our education system. One way to help get the word out is to support the CS Education Coalition which partners with Code.org to try and secure federal funds to support CS Education in our schools. At the state level creating or joining a CS taskforce is a great way to get a room full of people together who are all motivated to make CS a priority for schools and your department of education. Locally can be the most effective and not very complicated. Getting students exposed to CS with a Code.org, Scratch, Code Academy, Tynker, or Apple's Swift Playgrounds account can get the ball rolling and help make students' particpation in CS week and the Hour of Code fun and easy.
This year my fellow integrator and I made a big push to get district-wide participation in CS week. We put together a plan (2016 CS week schedule/agenda) that included lunch activities, intro classroom lessons, and classroom resources for teachers to use whenever convenient.
Our goal was to have unplugged and computer-based activities to give students a chance to experience the basics behind CS and enjoy the bells and whistles of fun online learning activities on sites like Code.org to spark their interest in CS. We started by meeting with all the building principals and giving them an overview of our planned activities as well as resources and videos classroom teachers could use independently throughout the week. Then we gave brief overviews to the staff at their weekly building meetings. Having the administration and staff on board was so important to starting a trickle down effect to get students excited and engaged.
Our French and Coding teacher (quite the combo!) at the middle school, Diane Godfrey, set-up two web calls with engineers from Google and Intel which we ran through Youtube live to enable other students and teachers a chance to watch the discussion anytime. AMS coding students facilitated and asked questions of the engineers for about an hour. This was such a cool experience that allowed the students to see some real world application of what computer science is today and what it might look like in the future!
The week was hectic, but the we were able to expose so many students in all three schools to basic elements and concepts of CS in fun and engaging ways. In addition to getting people involved during lunch, several teachers tapped Anita or me to help them run CS/coding mini-lessons. Our AES and AMS Librarians (Lisa May Howard and Teresa Cavaleri) helped kids get on Code.org and Scratch. HS math teacher, Kiffor Berg, taught his students about binary numbers and their relation to CS and how to program their graphing calculators. The goal is to continue to carry this momentum throughout the school year and into the planning process for courses to be offered in the coming years. If the demand is high enough then specific CS or coding courses can be offered in all our buildings and hopefully classroom teachers will continue to use CS to help teach other subjects.
The journey to getting computer science in our schools is only just beginning. The excitement is building and I think most educators realize we are doing our students a disservice if we don't help them learn the skills that will set them up for the newly emerging jobs and careers that haven't even been created yet. So what's the big deal with computer science? The big deal is that we are not doing enough to help our students and if we don't adapt our schools and curriculum to match the times we are living in then we are hurting them just as much as if we decided not to teach math, science, english, or social studies. If you have had any experience with promoting CS in your own district or on a state or national level, please leave any comments below.
Tech Integration Specialist at the Aspen School District. Level 2 Google Certified Educator. Former 4th grade teacher and Spartan for life! Go Green!