Code.org links computer science teachers to success

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About 90 Arizona educators learned how to integrate the computer science curriculum into their classrooms during recent Code.org teacher development workshops on the Grand Canyon University campus.

By Lana Sweeten-Shults
CUU Information Office

Teachers in groups of three were tasked with discovering as much as they could, in six minutes, about a completely different type of group of three: the star-nosed mole, the Pacific Northwest arboreal octopus and the blobfish. .

Some of the questions about these “strange but real animals”: ​​“What does he look like? “Where does it live?” “What’s this for eating?”

GCU and Science Foundation Arizona have partnered with Code.org to provide computer training for educators statewide.

Some answers:

  • The blobfish? He was voted # 1 on Animal Planet’s Ugliest Animal Countdown because, well, he looks like a gelatinous drop. Poor old blobfish.
  • The star-nosed mole slides its weird sprawling nose against the ground so it can “smell” its way, as it lives in the dark basement. He can also smell underwater and is the fastest eater in the world.
  • And the tree octopus – “Of course that’s a hoax,” said one educator with a resounding “aww” of disappointment from fellow teachers.

He was just one of some 90 Arizona educators who recently took free weeklong computer science classes at Code.org at Grand Canyon University. GCU partners with Code.org and Arizona Science Foundation to strengthen teachers’ computer skills and help them teach these skills to their students.

Of course, the lesson wasn’t really to learn more about the star-nosed mole, the Pacific Northwest tree octopus, or the blobfish. The idea was to get teachers to research a topic and then question the information they had gathered.

“How do you know the information is correct? What makes the website you used trustworthy? Asked the host of the Intermediate Computer Science Discoveries course, one of two professional development programs offered by Code.org on the GCU campus (the other is Computer Science Principles, the course educators will use to teach high school students (Advanced Student Interns).

The lesson on trusted and trusted websites is something the teachers at CS Discoveries will bring back to their computer classes in the fall, when they teach the Introductory Computer course to their college students.

Teach the teacher

Educators honed their skills on building websites using the computer languages ​​HTML and CSS, created interactive games in JavaScript using Game Lab, prototyped an application, and of course responded to questions. questions about what makes a reliable and trustworthy website. These are just a few of the lessons they have learned.

“We train them to be better computer science teachers,” said Dina lundblom, a coordinator for GCUs Strategic educational alliances, which supports K-12 students and educators and fosters a college-ready culture.

Teachers studying Code.org’s CS Discoveries program for middle schoolers have covered everything from computer languages ​​HTML and CSS to strategies for determining whether a website is a reliable and trustworthy source.

The five-day summer training, Lundblom said, is the launching pad for a one-year program. Throughout the year, teachers will return to GCU for quarterly workshops and will also benefit from online and forum support.

Jasmin goldstein, a teacher at La Cima Middle School in Tucson, spent some of her time at CS Discoveries solving a coding problem.

A line of code on her screen turned pink, so she knew something was wrong, even though she couldn’t figure it out. It was then that she turned to her “elbow partner” next to her for help with troubleshooting. He noticed that a backslash was in the wrong place.

She said she loved so many things about IT: “There’s critical thinking, problem solving. “

Debbie Lance, one of the moderators of Code.org, agreed that critical thinking is so important when it comes to education, not just computer science education.

“It’s more than just learning to program or debug,” Spear said. “We want our kids to experience problem solving, and counselors and administrators missed that very much. When they watch another elective course for kids, they see it as keyboard, which it doesn’t. “

Goldstein said, “We just had a lesson on strategies to use for debugging when we write code. … It could be as simple as the backslash is missing. But these are the things our students are going to encounter in the classroom, so we sort of learn Code.org strategies, other teachers’ learning strategies, and learn to teach outside of our classroom.

A lack of qualified teachers

Goldstein is in his second year of computer science at the helm. She earned a teaching degree, although she does not have a formal computer science degree, which many of her fellow teachers in the Code.org Discoveries program do.

They come from “all different walks of life,” Goldstein said, with varying levels of experience.

Spear said most of the teachers in the recent CS Discoveries course have taught computer science for one to three years. Only one taught computer science for four to six years. Many have never taught computer science before.

Most of the teachers in the recent CS Discoveries course had 1 to 3 years of experience teaching computer science. Code.org, which is the third year of partnership with GCU and Science Foundation Arizona, wants to train more educators to teach computer science.

“There is currently no requirement for a computer science degree,” Spear said of teachers. “I’m from the state of California, so in the state of California, if you have a math degree, you can teach computer science. “

The lack of qualified teachers in the field – an area that continues to experience phenomenal growth – is just a reflection of the landscape of computer science education across the country and how Code training is. org is trying to change that perspective.

Linda coyle, education director for the Arizona Science Foundation, said the first year these teacher enrichment courses were offered, 10 teachers completed the course. Of those 10, seven ended up dropping out of school to take a job in the computer industry, where the pay is much higher. This is just one example of how difficult it is to be competitive when it comes to finding and keeping good computer science teachers.

Corinne Araza, Director of Outreach and STEM Curriculum Development at GCU, said, “It is so difficult to find computer science teachers, so we have to depend on teachers who are interested in computer science and science. computer science. “

Marginalized computing

According to Code.org, IT drives innovation throughout the U.S. economy, and the average salary for IT jobs is almost double the state average salary of $ 46,290. However, IT remains marginalized from kindergarten to 12th grade. Organization statistics reveal that 13 states have adopted a policy to give all high school students access to computer classes, and of these, only five provide access to all students in Kindergarten to Grade 12.

These statistics also reveal how late American schools are in meeting the demand for jobs in the field. In Arizona, while IT standards are still being created for Kindergarten to Grade 12, high schools are not required to offer IT, even though, according to Code.org, more than 10,450 IT jobs are open in the state. This is 3.3 times the state’s average demand rate. Additionally, nearly half of Arizona schools have no computer training. Only 16% proposed AP Computer Science in 2016-17, and only 738 students took the AP Computer Science test in 2017-18.

“But they’re working on it,” Spear said of improving the landscape for computer science education. “They’ve put the standards and the framework together and they’re working on it to try to make it mandatory for all students. But each state will have to take responsibility for this. “

Code.org wishes to expand access to computers in schools. This means training more computer science teachers and developing professional learning programs such as CS Discoveries and CS Principles. The association also wants to increase the participation of women and under-represented minorities.

According to Code.org, “Our vision is that every student in every school has the opportunity to learn computer science, just like biology, chemistry or algebra.”

Building a community

“We work a lot to build community and figure out who the stakeholders are and who can help bring computing to all of our children – not just those in a handful of special schools,” said Spear.

The five-day summer courses on Code.org marked the launch of a one-year computer science program. Educators will return to GCU throughout the year for quarterly workshops.

GCU, whose first computer science graduates crossed the scene in April, sees itself as an integral part of building this community. The university has partnered with Science Foundation Arizona, College Board and Code.org for three years in an effort to increase the knowledge of computer science teachers, Executive Director of SEA Carol Lippert noted.

Coyle added that the industry has also played a big role in these teacher enrichment courses. Schools often cannot afford to send teachers to a professional development program like the one offered at GCU, so several corporate entities have provided grants to cover the costs.

With these learning programs CS Discoveries and CS Principles, Spear said, it’s not just about giving students access to IT in schools so the workforce can keep up with the demand. booming jobs in the field.

It is also about supporting teachers.

The number of educators who devote a week of their summer to learning strategies for teaching computer science has grown from 10 this first year to around 90 this year, a 900% increase in attendance in just three years. And the teachers who attended did so at their own pace, which shows how determined they are to prepare their students for the future.

“When you attend faculty meetings, how many teachers know about IT that you can talk about – what excites you? So here is their opportunity, ”said Spear.

“We need this support. “

You can reach Lana Sweeten-Shults, Senior Editor at GCU, at [email protected] or at 602-639-7901.

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