It’s a big question in education today. Do all students need to code, or more broadly, do all students need to understand the basic concepts and principles of computer science?
The College Board says yes.
The College Board – the people behind the SAT and Advanced Placement/AP courses – believe that of all the skills students need, mastering computer code is one of the most important for success in college and life. In nearly every career – business, entertainment, arts, education, government – computing, data, and artificial intelligence play an increasingly important role. A student who can master the principles of computing and coding will be better prepared for nearly every job of the future.
Amazon says yes.
Whether you love it, or love to hate it, Amazon is the largest public company in the world. As Amazon looks ahead, it sees a shortage of employees with the essential skills needed for future jobs. This shortage is particularly notable among women and students of color. Amazon is investing $50 million into the Amazon Future Engineer Program, aimed at putting more computer science education into schools across the country.
While not every student will become a computer scientist or master coding as a career path, understanding the principles of computer science will help students become shapers and influencers of their environment.
Over the past year, we took a look at how students are learning coding and computer science in our own school. It wasn’t pretty! While we have offered some technology courses for all middle school students, and elective coding courses at the high school level, we didn’t have a well-planned curriculum across the grades. And we saw the same issue of gender and race disparity in our own classrooms. In our high school coding electives, nearly all students were white males.
We’re excited with the changes in place for the 2019-2020 school year! Our biggest goal this year is to increase participation – how can we get more students engaged with coding and understanding how it can be used? Our second goal is to ensure that students are developing the skills and knowledge they need in our classrooms and in the world beyond.
What are we doing to improve our computer science programs?
We’ve hired a full-time computer science teacher for our middle school. She is charged with developing curriculum that increases in complexity from 5th grade through 8th grade, and ultimately prepares students for high school level coding classes. In every grade, students will be learning how to use technology in our classes, while also learning cyber citizenship and safety. Every student in grades 5 – 8 will take a class in computer science.
In high school, with a grant from the Amazon Future Engineer Program, we are adding two computer science courses: Introduction to Computer Science, and AP Computer Science Principles. We’ve had a great response, with over 40 students enrolled in the two courses. This is nearly 4 times the number of students completing a coding class last year!
It’s an ambitious effort, and we’re sure to make some mistakes along the way. When that happens, we’ll keep an eye on our goals and try new strategies.