Back to school has arrived and administrators are facing the same problem they have been for the past few years: teacher shortages and added computer science mandates.
We’ve seen district leaders across the nation scramble to meet their state computer science (CS) requirements while also dealing with a loss of teachers in the classroom.
We’ve heard stories about non-CS teachers taking on the responsibility to meet these requirements, and have seen these same teachers shed tears over the imposter syndrome–or the feeling of inexperience. We’ve heard other stories about schools adding CS classes but not being able to create enough buzz to get students to enroll.
So how can we fix these issues?
Understanding the Scramble for Computer Science
Why is there a massive push for computer science education? Because computational thinking takes our lives to the next level. Creating a successful sourdough starter takes the same computational thinking skills as an algorithm. Biologists today are visualizing their sample data using Python. Computer Scientists are changing the world fundamentally, including how we communicate. Computer Science Education and computational literacies are fundamental skills for our generation and the future.
In Career and Technical Education we talk about the different CTE clusters ranging from agriculture and food to science and technology. While historically computer science fits in the “Science, Technology, Engineering & Mathematics” cluster, it’s true that CS skills can actually fit into every CTE cluster–including agriculture and food.
For example, technology has driven technological advances in how farmers improve efficiencies in their farming operations, helping produce food in a way that’s more efficient and helps reduce climate change. Technology will continue to advance in every industry–it’s happening right now.
It’s true that not all students will be coding in their chosen career path. However, computer science education and coding have proven to help students gain applicable skills in any industry such as problem-solving and collaboration.
CEOs all over the nation are calling on state and district leaders to add computer science as a requirement to K-12 education because there is a huge gap in tech career opportunities and those with the skills to fill those roles.
“Software touches all of these different things you use, and tech companies are revolutionizing all different areas of the world...from how we shop to how farming works, all these things that aren't technical are being turned upside down by software. So being able to play in that universe really makes a difference.” - Drew Houston, Founder & CEO, Dropbox
“Computing lets people express their creativity and unlock solutions, and code is computing's universal language. All young people, including girls, deserve to be fluent in the language of the future.” - Lucy Sanders, CEO & Co-Founder, National Center for Women & Information Technology
State and district leaders have been having these discussions for years, and now we’re starting to see more funding available to help students get the skills needed to join the tech workforce.
The Challenges of Adopting Computer Science Pathways
Now that funding and state support are becoming more available, district leaders have started adopting computer science pathways. But there have been some challenges along the way.
One is the teacher shortage.
States have provided a lot of time and money behind professional development in hopes to bring teachers up to speed with the complexities of teaching computer science. This has resulted in some teachers becoming coders themselves and leaving their district for tech jobs.
This isn’t the only reason teachers are fleeing the classroom. Teachers are feeling more burned out than ever. And with so many leaving the classroom, the teachers that are staying have little to no CS experience and struggle to take on one more thing, resulting in even more teacher shortages.
Some states and districts have required computer science professional development (PD) to train these new-to-CS teachers. These added hours and big PD budgets have only added to the problem–more work required of teachers that are already taking on additional work.
Because of the teacher shortage and burnout, some districts have pushed pause on fulfilling these state CS mandates and requirements–making it so their students can’t get the CS education needed in today’s workforce.
Another challenge in adopting CS is the lack of CS enrollment.
According to the most recent State of Computer Science report, 51% of schools in the United States now offer computer science classes. While the amount of CS courses offered throughout the United States increases, many schools struggle to hit their target student enrollment. This is because of the common misconception that CS is too hard or too boring–or from the difficulty of creating buzz around CS in the classroom.
How District Leaders Can Solve the Problem
- Introduce Earlier Exposure to Computer Science
We’ve heard it over and over again, “we’ve added computer science to our CTE pathways but we aren’t hitting the enrollment numbers we’re hoping for.” Giving your high school students exposure to CS in high school is essential–starting them earlier is equally essential in your pursuit of fostering computational thinkers that buck traditional stereotypes.
Starting your students’ CS journey as early as Kindergarten will help them experience how easy and creative coding really is–before those misconceptions that coding is too hard or too boring set in.
Districts can start laying the foundation of CS in elementary schools by implementing a K-5 pathway that includes unplugged activities and cross-curricular. You don’t have to have CS teachers in your elementary schools to start laying this foundation. The unplugged activities and cross-curriculum can be used by any teacher and can be woven into everything that’s already being taught, including Math, Science, and ELA.
While any teacher can easily add CS into their classroom using unplugged activities and cross-curriculum, schools can also utilize paraeducators–also referred to as computer lab aids–to introduce K-5 students to computer science.
Weber School District recently implemented a K-5 pathway to start earlier exposure to computer science through the use of paraeducators. They did this to alleviate home room teachers' added responsibilities, while also being able to fulfill Utah’s CS mandates. As a result, they’ve been able to help their youngest students learn the basics of computational thinking, helping prepare students for a stronger computer science CTE pathway.
- Implement an Easy-to-Use, Autograded, and Accessible Computer Science Solution
There are several free computer science lessons, curriculum, and services available to you and your teachers on the internet. The problem with using these free resources is that it still puts the burden on your teachers, resulting in added burnout.
By implementing an easy-to-use, autograded and accessible computer science solution, your teachers, subs, and paraeducators will be able to easily hop into the platform and rely on carefully scaffolded, curated, and auto-graded K-12 curriculum that an expert created for them–giving your teachers more time to focus on their students and less time to burn out.
A computer science solution makes it easy for any teacher to teach CS in the classroom. Teachers don’t have to know how to code to teach code.
This solution should empower students to learn at their own pace–making them more independent in their learning. Look for CS solutions that include:
- Curriculum written by dedicated curriculum experts that aligns with your state and CSTA standards
- A code environment that helps your students apply the curriculum they’re learning
- A built-in autograder that checks your students' progress and code
- Pre-made lesson plans for teachers–including unplugged activities
- Accessibility features that make it so all your students can participate in computer science
- Curriculum in multiple languages–for your English Language Learners (ELL)
- An easy-to-use interface for teachers and students
- Live support that can be easily accessed during school hours
In 2019, Landmark Middle School of Moreno Valley Unified School District added a computer science course to their school. Instead of hiring a CS teacher, they asked Mrs. Becky Baez–an English and history teacher–to take on the responsibility of teaching the course. Without hesitation, Mrs. Baez took on the challenge and her school supported her with a computer science solution that has a built-in autograder and curriculum. One year after implementing CS into their school, their computer science enrollment increased 43%.
- Adopt a Guaranteed and Viable Computer Science Curriculum
Part of the issue of curating your own curriculum, or adopting free CS curriculum on the internet, is that teachers still need to have some understanding of code in order to create a rigorous pathway that engages students.
By adopting a guaranteed and viable curriculum and strong instructional strategies, your teachers can teach CS without prior experience–making it so they can focus on their students’ learning and practice differentiation and personalization in the classroom.
A guaranteed and viable curriculum includes a comprehensive K-12 computer science pathway that engages students in rigorous coding experience at every grade level.
An example of this comprehensive K-12 computer science pathway could include:
- Grades K-5: Start your youngest learners' computer science journey using block-based code environments that help them create content, not just consume it. In addition to block-based coding, students should participate in unplugged activities that help them apply complex coding concepts–preparing them for more rigorous concepts in later grades. While your students are still in these younger grades, transition their block-based code to text-based code and begin teaching them HTML.
- Grades 9-12: Introduce more advanced-level courses–such as AP Computer Science Principles, Python ITS Cert, and more–and simulate real-world work environments that web and software developers face on a day-to-day basis. This includes self-paced learning practices, group projects, and a rigorous curriculum that helps students advance in computer science skills and languages.
When you partner with a computer science solution that prioritizes a guaranteed and viable curriculum, you can rely on them to customize a CS pathway that makes sense for your district instead of placing the burden on your teachers and curriculum staff.
- Provide Appropriate Professional Development and Support for Your Teachers
Your teachers are incredible. They are willing to take on new challenges and curriculum for the good of their students’ future. It’s disheartening to see them struggle to implement CS education that they’ve never had previous experience with.
Instead of requiring teachers to take hours upon hours of CS professional development (PD), invest in a computer science solution that has PD and live support built into the platform–and requires little to no technical knowledge to dive in. The PD you’re looking for should support your teachers in the classroom–not require extra time or work outside of the classroom.
The built-in live support feature means your teachers can ask technical and curriculum questions to an expert during class hours, making sure they are never on their own.
LaShon from Rialto Unified School District started her first year teaching computer science with a computer science solution that has live support built-in. She had no previous CS experience, but was able to ask this live support channel for help on technical and curriculum questions during class hours. The live support responded in seconds, making her first year teaching CS a positive experience. Now LaShon is in her second year teaching and has more confidence in her CS classroom.
“My confidence in teaching coding [curriculum] has soared knowing that the solutions team is just moments away from assisting me at just about a moment’s notice. I feel like they are there just waiting to assist me personally whenever a need arises within the entire school day.” - LaShon, CS Teacher at Rialto Unified School District
What is Skill Struck?
Skill Struck offers a comprehensive K-12 computer science solution and curriculum for schools and districts. To learn more about how Skill Struck can help your district adopt a computer science pathway that any teacher can easily teach, schedule a demo at www.skillstruck.com/get-demo.