Teaching computer science was celebrated last week with the annual recognition event called CSEdWeek. The week is celebrated during the birthday week of Grace Murray Hopper, one of the pioneers in the computer science field and one of the first programmers of Harvard Mark I computer. Hopper was born on December 9th, 1906.
The aim of the celebration is to encourage more students in K-12 to study computer science and to expose them to the multiple facets of the constantly-evolving discipline. As the website for the event explains, computer science involves learning about more than just programming languages — it also encompasses the study of computer engineering, informatics, information technology, and information systems.
In an increasingly tech-hungry and tech-dependent world, computer science touches almost every part of daily life. It is an engine of economic growth and it has an impact on almost every part of society today. Yet according to Teach for America, it remains one of the most overlooked components of STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) education. Schools are experiencing a chronic shortage of skilled instructors in the subject and seem at a loss even as to the most effective way to teach it. Some of the challenges to the field include:
There is insufficient innovative computing curricula for students at all levels
Few students have the opportunity to study computer science in an engaging and rigorous way
The lack of ethnic and gender diversity among those who take computer science courses is unacceptable
Teachers have few opportunities for professional development in computing
Certification for computer science teachers is virtually nonexistent nationwide
In light of the fact that employers are also calling for schools to produce more computer science professionals, schools that embrace teaching the subject will also be doing their students a real service by putting them on the path towards a lucrative future career. The event website cites data that shows that close to a million computing jobs will be created by the year 2018, and five of the ten fastest-growing industries involve computing.
Those graduating with computer science and computer engineering college degrees are attracting job offers and high starting salaries, yet the number of high schools and middle schools that offer courses on computer science fell from 40% to 27% between the years of 2005 and 2009.
The percent of high schools with introductory computer science courses fell from 78% to 65% from 2005-2009.
The majority of states have no certification for computer science teachers; in states where certification or endorsement exists, the requirements may have little, if any, computer science content.
Only 17% of AP computer science test-takers in 2008 were women , although women represented 55% of all AP test-takers.
For schools that want to embrace teaching it, there are many engaging and original options to pursue. Tess Rinearson points to edu-toys like Lego Mindstorm robots that will engage younger children and provide an age-appropriate introduction to the discipline. There are even programming languages that are aimed squarely at middle-schoolers that eschew complexities often found in full-featured high-level languages used by older students and professionals. Among the most used are Scratch and Alice.