Wednesday, March 7, 2018

Connecting Computer Science to Today's World


In the globally connected world that we are currently in and the ease at which people from all over the world can be hired in a brief moment to do jobs that in the past could not be outsourced easily, it's time to rethink computer science in our schools.

Recently I had the opportunity to talk with a STEM district leader and heard concerns about teaching both more and higher level computer science classes in their district. I think it is fair to say that many school systems are looking deeply at the scope and sequence of computer science for our students.

In the state of Tennessee, Computer Science falls under the category of CTE (Career and Technical Training)- this was what was known as vocational education a few years back.  As a former business education certified teacher, I would be considered qualified to teach Computer Science classes because our state does not currently have a computer science endorsement (and I can tell you I do not have the skill set for what that means today). In my opinion, this is a travesty to today's students and the future workforce of our state and country.  In a world where we are tracking students into college ready or CTE we have segmented both the availability of these classes away from students that might truly be interested in this as a college career. STEM jobs are the fastest growing need in our country today but so many states need to step up to create more fluid opportunities for this to happen.

Some school systems have adopted a curriculum called "Project Lead the Way" that embeds coding skills into the science curriculum. This is an attempt to give students both the experience of coding and to create pathways for interested college-bound students to move in that direction. While I believe in embedded and integrated technology, I am somewhat concerned that this process isn't truly creating the path that is rigorous enough for the future.

At Chattanooga Christian School we happen to have a faculty member, Cathy Smith, with a robust programming background. But the truth of the matter is, most schools aren't this fortunate and therefore they can't afford to hire the level of knowledge base needed on a school budget. When speaking to my STEM friend I could see how she was trying to bridge the issues that she sees in computer science and our state. You see, someone with high level computer science skills can walk into IT opportunities all over the country that would allow them to double or triple what they can make in any school system. How do we tap into this? Adjunct faculty? CCS is blessed by Cathy Smith. We are one of only a handful of school's that even offers any AP Computer Science classes. According to code.org, "Tennessee had only 625 computer science graduates in 2015; only 18% were female. Only 934 exams were taken in AP Computer Science by high school students in Tennessee in 2017." Folks, nationally only 10 percent of schools teach AP Computer Science classes. I'm thankful we are one of them...but these statistics have to change. 

I am thankful to work in a school system that has a remarkable faculty that understands the math scaffolding needed to develop an understanding of programming. This is an area that causes struggles for many school systems in that the required logic, math, and scientific scaffolding isn't happening for most of the students that are on a CTE track and the lack of wiggle room in elective choices creates some disconnect for college bound students being able to choose this CTE track option.

It's time for state education systems to re-evaluate Computer Science in the realms of availability, quality instructors, and how it integrates into the educational climate as a whole. Just because a student has "done HTML" or "coded in Scratch" does not mean that they have a skill set that will help them critically create something of worth in the future.  It's time for us all to get intentional about computer science and it's scope and sequence starting in pre-K. I am a firm believer that even the youngest child has the ability to start thinking in the sequential manner needed to be future coders. Edtech companies are on board trying to create stepping stone opportunities for this to happen through such things as drag and drop block coding, and kid friendly robotics like Wonder Workshop's Dash and Dot. These resources are what make intentional computer science options available for students and there are ways to embed these skills into our daily curriculum. We are doing just that in our elementary school, in an introductory level.

Research shows that by age 12 most students have a mindset for or against all things STEM and what they want to do with their future. It is imperative that we start creating those experiences and opportunities in intentional ways for our future workforce.