How to make (and win) the case for more computer science in your schools

Computer science classes help with a whole host of important skills beyond coding
Marielle Wells
Marielle Wells

I taught high school STEM classes for eight years. One of the things that bothered me the most was that students were not exposed to the various careers and paths they can take after graduating. How can we expect young adults to choose a major or a career path when they have had limited or zero exposure to what is out there?

STEM is one area where ample career opportunities exist and are growing. Computer science jobs are expected to grow faster than all other sectors, with the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics predicting IT jobs will expand by 13% (667,600 new jobs) from 2020 to 2030.

As a teacher, I feel it is my role to prepare students for their futures while also encouraging other educators and administrators to do so. Here are my thoughts on how to make that happen.

First, justify learning about computer science

Computer science classes provide numerous benefits. For starters, just about everything we do today involves some form of technology. We deposit checks with our smartphones, sign contracts electronically, and refill prescriptions via text. Nearly every job involves a technological component–even if it’s just posting to social media–and the technology continues to advance. Students who are experienced with computer science will be better prepared for whatever comes next.

But more than just teaching students how to code, computer science classes help with a whole host of other important skills, such as critical thinking, reasoning, teamwork, process, and collaboration. A 2020 study by the Association for Computing Machinery found that computer science college students were better trained in problem-solving than were students of any other major. The McKinsey Global Institute found that digital skills like programming and design are the fastest accelerating career-readiness skills needed between now and 2030. Computer science teaches a different way of thinking and learning, and it allows students to use skills that aren’t required in other classes.

Make coding accessible

The first strategy to help students and adults understand the importance of computer science is to define it. People are often afraid of what they don’t know. Clear up misconceptions and help others in your district understand what computer science is and what it isn’t. For example, it’s not just about coding. Computer science includes hardware, data, computational thinking, design, user experience, the internet, and cybersecurity.

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x Bring the fun to computer science. One way I did this was to incorporate video game design in my engineering classes. Almost all students enjoy playing games; my students learned programming languages to develop their own games and didn’t even realize they were learning. Other fun ideas include bringing in robots, building computers, virtual field trips, and developing websites for the community. It’s so much easier to teach motivated, engaged students.

Think about integrating computer science components into other subjects. I taught physics concepts such as momentum, speed, velocity, and gravity in my science classes. Rather than giving a traditional multiple-choice test, I asked students to create a simulation with at least two physics concepts. Students can create podcasts in social studies, build web pages in language arts, or develop apps in math classes.

Encourage teachers to love computer science (or at least be comfortable with it)

Some teachers enjoy developing new skills; others tend to stick to their tried-and-true teaching methods. It may seem like more work to teach computer science, but there are tons of resources available. We offer many free online lessons, teacher’s guides, lesson plans, and other resources to understand computer science and feel comfortable teaching it. There are several other sites offering these resources, too.

Teachers don’t have to be experts and that is OK. Some of my best lessons were when I’d bring a new device to my engineering class and ask the students to help me figure out how to use it. The environment changes when students are able to teach other students as well as the teacher. We should encourage students to help one another and promote teamwork because that models the professional setting.

How can we change the environment for teachers so they feel comfortable teaching computer science and coding? Offer hands-on professional development so that teachers feel better prepared with the tools in their classroom. Provide classroom resources, but also remind them it’s OK to start small.

Marielle Wells is a content specialist at pi-top. Previously, she taught engineering, environmental science, and physical science in the Calcasieu Parish School District in Louisiana.

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