Why students should learn computer science early and often

Kansas' computer science standards respond to industry interest in a pipeline of tech workers
By: | June 17, 2021
(Fresno USD)(Fresno USD)

Computer science must begin in kindergarten because it’s not too many years later when students decide if they are “techies,” Stephen King says.

That’s why, in helping develop Kansas’ computer science standards in 2019, he urged the state to go beyond making computer science a high school graduation requirement.

“We’ve got a robust system of CTE pathways having to with computer science, web development and programming,” says King, the Kansas Department of Education’s education program consultant in media and technology. “But if you can’t fill the seats—if you can’t fill the seats with a diverse population—you’re not doing the state as much good as you could have.”

In June, Kansas allowed high schools to count computer science as a core graduation credit. The standards reflect a nationwide effort to bring computer science into the core of academic subjects as the number of jobs in the sector surges, and computational thinking and knowledge of software become key skills across the broader workforce.

One goal is to introduce students to computer science early and often, King says. For example, third-grade teachers are now having students program and fly drones to learn fractions.

Starting computer science in kindergarten and first grade, and embedding in throughout elementary schools, also increases the chances that underrepresented and underprivileged students will develop a passion for the subject and study computer science in middle and high school, had college, he says.


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The standards are also a response to industry interest in having a pipeline of tech workers and a signal that Kansas is preparing its future workforce, he adds.

This summer, King and others will begin offering professional development in computer science, including for K-5 teachers. Already, districts are also creating binders full of ready-made lesson plans that teachers can integrate into instruction.

Finally, Kansas’ department of education is also creating standards for how teachers are prepared to teach computer science in the state’s schools of education.

Resources and reasons

Schools are getting support from an organization called NetWork Kansas, which has been working to integrate K-12 computer science education with industry certifications and employers.

The organization has built a coalition to provide educators with the resources and reasons to teach computer science,  says Nick Poels, NetWork Kansas’ director of remote work and entrepreneurship. Two big reasons are economic development and career opportunities for kids. “It’s not tax incentives, it’s not geographic location,” Poels says. “Companies want to go where there is talent.”

Ironically, perhaps, COVID and the shift to online learning have given computer science a boost in Kansas. Most students now have access to adequate devices for remote learning, which in turn has opened up more career opportunities.

“We can now introduce the idea to K-12 students that living in a rural community of 1,000 people doesn’t stop them from remotely accepting a well-paid position with a national tech brand,” he says.

 


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