In the late 90’s I participated in several computer programming courses as a part of my Computer Management Information Systems undergraduate degree—one more forgettable than the next. While these classes were at the core of my studies, those focusing on the humanities were the ones to which I was drawn. Perhaps my right-brain was winning the psychological battle at that time in my life at that time…
On the other hand, Math and Science were the courses that required a particular kind of analytical focus that I had not expected. In retrospect, I believe I was beginning to develop the problem solving and critical thinking skills that would serve as a foundation for my future in education. Even as I earned high marks in programming classes, I was struggling in terms of actual learning. The syntax-laden programming classes had been designed, in tandem with existing pedagogy, for students to duplicate instruction as a means of demonstrating mastery and understanding. The greater the depth of duplication, the higher the earned grade. In my early twenties, this was enough for me—get through the courses and keep my GPA up. Somehow I earned an undergraduate degree in CMIS with a strong focus on Computer Science, all without learning much about programming whatsoever.
Ten years later, I now work for a school where courses in entrepreneurship, digital literacy, and STEM (I prefer STEAM), in partnership with classes in the humanities and the arts, have become contributing elements of a rigorous academic program for students of all abilities, interests, and experiences. Last year I was asked to teach a Gaming class, which has evolved into Game Design and iOS App Development this year. We have been fortunate enough to work with Dr. Ellen Fishman Johnson and Dr. Youngmoo Kim on ReMix Interactive, a collaborative digital media project where my students will develop a light show app with the mentorship of Drexel’s ExCITe center.
Through the efforts of my students, along with the work I’ve done with SCH Academy’s Center for Entrepreneurial Leadership (CEL), I’ve come full circle, as the saying goes; I now believe that skills acquired in Computer Science programs are the same skills that we need to embrace in education and incorporate into the K-12 student experience. It’s the approach toward that very skill-building that requires change. I was taught specific programming languages, i.e. C, C++, Perl and others, as opposed to actual skills. Executive Director of CEL, Mark Greenberg has stated that…”Every device around us operates thanks to coding. Learning to code provides insights as to how things work, and more importantly, what is possible. Coding also provides an excellent opportunity to develop CEL skills including critical thinking, project management, and problem solving to name only a few.” With a different, more practical approach toward programming, students will be able to practice those very skills while breaking down large problems into smaller and more solvable parts.
To further support the idea that Computer Science skills are important to our students—Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerburg, Elena Silenok and other digital leaders talk about programming in education in the following video from code.org What Most Schools Don’t Teach—the video has received over eleven million views to date.
More supporting facts:
– The Bureau of Labor Statistics projects that By the year 2020, there will be 4.2 million jobs in the computing and information technology in the U.S., putting these field among the fastest growing occupational fields .
– Computer Science courses in K-12 education are fading from the national landscape at the very moment they are need most. According to the College Board, In 2011, a total of 3.4 million AP exams were given. Just under 1 million of those were in the sciences. About 20,000 of those were in Computer Science, accounting for 2% of the science exams and 1% of all AP exams. Introductory secondary school computer science course have decreased in number by 10 percent from 2005.
– Time Magazine Tech suggests that Only 19% of American high school students have taken a Computer Science course.
Not every student has to become an expert Computer Scientist. However, programming is becoming an increasingly important skill in a progressively digital landscape. Along with the digital literacy components and entrepreneurial skills, students have an opportunity to distinguish themselves in a world where the tech sector is set to set to grow faster than all but five industries by 2020 (Time Techland).
This is where I encourage dialogue—why aren’t we preparing our students with the entrepreneurial and computational skills obtained in a K-12 Computer Science program? The White House Website says, President Obama recognizes that Technology is an essential ingredient of economic growth and job creation. Then why are simply equipping our students with the tools, but not preparing them to become the thinkers and builders behind the technology we simply cannot live without?
This summer I will be preparing to teach an elective in the fall, Intro to Computer Science. Some will suggest that this “one-off” Computer Science course might marginalize the efforts of curriculum facilitators to embed programming course work in both math and science requirements. We have to begin somewhere, however. To that point, I direct you towards the Lean Startup Methodology and the Design Thinking Process—we have pinpointed a problem, now we can develop a Prototype or Minimum Viable Product to perhaps build towards integrating Computer Science into Math, Science, New Media and Engineering within a few years.