Schools encouraged to recruit students for computer science education

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As part of the recent CS4RI statewide computer science summit, a special three-hour session was held for school administrators and guidance counselors to discuss why computer science education matters. An overview of CS4RI programs was given, lesson plans were shared, educators were shown what resources they have available, and attendees learned about the emerging RI State Standards in the area of computer science.

The session was run by Victor Fay-Wolfe, a University of Rhode Island computer science faculty member, Jessie Barrett, Regional Manager for Code.org, and Kate Pickle, from the National Center for Women and Information Technology (NCWIT).

Fay-Wolfe began his slide-show presentation by noting that computer jobs are the top source of new wages in the country, with 500,000 jobs currently open across the country and projected to grow at twice the rate of all other jobs.

Given those statistics, he shared the fact that even though 71 percent of all new jobs are in STEM computing, only eight percent of STEM graduates are graduating in the area of computer science. As Governor Raimondo had shared with students earlier in the day, nearly 1500 of those computer science jobs were left unfilled in Rhode Island in 2017. Raimondo had shared her goal to have more students graduating from colleges and universities with computer science degrees in order to have them able to fill those positions in Rhode Island.

Fay-Wolfe also clarified for those in attendance what computer science was and what it was not. His slide stated that computer science is “the study of computers and algorithmic processes, including their principles, their hardware and software designs, their applications and their impact on society.” It was also defined as the art of blending human ideas and digital tools to increase problem-solving power through communications, problem solving and creativity.

Programming (coding) was defined as writing a set of instructions for the computer so that it understands what humans want it to do. He clarified that computer science is not typing, being able to play games, texting, social media, navigating apps, the knowledge of word applications such as Word or Google Docs, or being able to be “good with technology.” It’s also not robotics, computer literacy or educational technology.

As schools begin to incorporate more computer science education into their curriculum, meeting the governor’s goals of having all students K-12 learning computer science in school, Fay-Wolfe emphasized the importance of administrators and guidance counselors advising students to explore those types of classes, even if they may not think they are interested in them, as many students do not realize what computer science entails, or think that they are not smart enough.

He also discussed the stereotype that exists of only “nerdy” or “geeky” students having interests or abilities in the areas of computer science and emphasized the importance of administration fitting computer science classes into the curriculum.

He also said that barriers exist in having enough teachers trained to teach computer science as well as having space in the schedule to incorporate more computer science into the curriculum.

At the state level, computer science standards are expected to be formally introduced in 2018. He also noted that a certification for teachers does not yet exist for computer science education and that a great deal of training and education for educators is available to them through partnerships with both through code.org and the University of Rhode Island.

Throughout the presentation, educators were shown sample lessons, lesson plans and computer science pathways to help them incorporate computer science into classes at all levels.

The opportunity was given for all participants to try out an “unplugged” computer science lesson from the CS Discoveries pathways curriculum for grades six through nine, which showed them a lesson that introduces students to computer science and algorithmic thinking without the use of a computer. This lesson is typical of some of the curriculum resources available to them and builds a foundation for students that leads to using the computers for computer science lessons and experiences.

In addition to Fay-Wolfe’s presentation, both Barrett and Pickle shared a wide variety of resources and information with the group that can help them provide computer science opportunities to their students and teachers at the building level, with many of those resources being free of charge or at a very low cost.

All attendees were given a bag filled with free materials and resources courtesy of code.org and ncwit.org.

For more information about computer science education, computer science resources and training or the Rhode Island state computer science standards, visit code.org, csteachers.org, ncwit.org, k12.cs.uri.edu, and cs4ri.org.

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