Why should kids learn about computer science (CS)?
When most adults were in school, they had little access to CS education and probably had never met a computer scientist or anyone who worked with computer science as part of their jobs. Therefore, many adults of this era did not know what CS was and did not think about using CS as part of a future career while they were in school. Computer science education is about helping our children to think, create and solve problems using technology, which will prepare them for almost any future career.
Computer science is the study of computers, the development of the set of instructions that tells machines what to do and how this applies to solving problems and impacts our society (Tucker et al., 2006). Rapid advancements in computing and its near ubiquitous nature have changed the lives of nearly every person on Earth. As computing continues to allow an evolution in how we live our lives, so too must we evolve our outlook on computing, how we understand it and how we relate to it.
What are the benefits of learning CS?
Increasingly, jobs in almost every industry require some knowledge of computer science. This idea is known as “computational X”. Whether it be computational biology, computational art, or computational economics, most professional jobs that today’s fifth graders may aspire toward will include some computational aspect. The same is true for what is traditionally considered blue collar work. Production, the service industry, and even delivery are all increasingly integrating aspects of computation and automation.
Learning CS is not just about financial opportunity. It also gives children a fantastic opportunity to explore their creativity. Most people don’t realize that computer science can be combined with almost any interest, allowing kids to express their passions more deeply and in new ways. Creating video games, animations, digital artwork, and applying computation to music are just a few examples of how children can harness the power of computing to express themselves and share their ideas.
Basic knowledge of computer science also serves to help make sure today’s K-12 students become tomorrow’s informed citizenry. When children cultivate an understanding of the power of data and how it is used, cultivated and shared, they become empowered to engage more fully, ethically and powerfully in a world in which they are surrounded by data every second of their lives. This understanding allows them to ask informed questions about their rights and fulfill the responsibilities of ethical digital citizenship.
How can parents help students learn more about CS?
Parents may hear, “computer science” and immediately become reticent due to their lack of opportunity learning CS when they were in school. In an ideal world, all schools would offer rich computer science learning opportunities to all students, and the professional development teachers need to instruct those students. While tremendous progress has and is being made towards these goals, we are not there yet. Recent surveys tell us that 85% of parents believe that CS is important, yet only 25% of schools offer CS courses of study (Google, 2015). So what can parents do to help close that gap?
1. Advocate for CS! If no CS learning opportunities currently exist at your child’s school, advocate for participation in CSed Week (https://csedweek.org/) and Hour of Code (https://hourofcode.com/us) as a start.
2. Find an ally such as someone from a local CSTA chapter, a parent or volunteer from a local tech company, or faculty at a local university interested inc CS education. Organizations such as Google CS First (https://csfirst.withgoogle.com/en/home), TEALS (https://www.tealsk12.org/volunteers/) and Code.org (https://code.org/volunteer) helps to pair volunteers with those who want to learn. Increasingly, community organizations such as public libraries and Four-H (https://4-h.org/) are offering computer science learning opportunities.
3. Allocate time to find resources and play with your child (online resources, games, toys, books).
4. Apply for grants in collaboration with other parents, organizations, and schools. Google’s PD grants are one example (g.co/CSedugrants).
5. Assist your children as they begin learning CS by encouraging them, showing interest in their work and learning alongside them. Creating fun learning opportunities that are valued helps make sure that students won’t give up when the going gets tough. Parents may remember traditional schooling as getting work done, getting a grade and moving on. CS is different! Iteration, or the continual refining of one’s work, is at the core of CS. This change in thinking may be a tough shift in mindset for parents and children alike, and parents can help facilitate this shift by encouraging their children to see initial difficulties and failures as opportunities for growth.
Here are some key facts to help you make the case for computer science education at your child’s school:
– Computing and mathematics is one of the TOP 10 fastest growing major occupational groups 2010- 2020
– 150,000+ job openings in computing annually
– 1.3 million jobs in computer and mathematical occupations will be created by 2022
– By 2020, roughly 1 million coding jobs will go unfilled
– Computer science is among the top 5 paid college degrees
– Computer science is key to solving the world’s most crucial problems – environmental sustainability, poverty, hunger and homeland security
Google (2015). Searching for computer science: Access and barriers in U.S. K-12 education. Retrieved from https://services.google.com/fh/files/misc/searching-for-computer-science_report.pdf
Grover, S., & Pea, R. (2013). Computational thinking in K–12: A review of the state of the field. Educational Researcher, 42(1), 38-43.
Tucker, A., Deek, F., Jones, J., McCowan, D., Stephenson, C., and Verno, A. A Model Curriculum for K-12 Computer Science: Final Report of the ACM K-12 Task Force Curriculum Committee, 2nd Ed. Association for Computing Machinery (ACM), New York, New York, 2006. http://csta.acm.org/Curriculum/sub/ACMK12CSModel.html
What are some common misconceptions about CS?
Misconception: Using computers or computer literacy is computer science. Computer literacy focuses on the use of existing technologies. Computer science teaches students design skills, logical reasoning and problem-solving that allows them to create and adapt new technologies.
Misconception: Programming is a solitary activity for nerdy white males. Computing is for everyone. Almost anyone can learn computer science skills given the opportunity and sufficient support. Most problems are solved by people working as part of a team, communicating effectively, and considering the diverse perspectives of others.
Misconception: There is only one way to learn CS. Over the last few years, we have seen an explosion of options for learning computer science at every level including multiple platforms, approaches, and mediums including games, toys, and books. Best of all, many of these resources are free! Identifying and utilizing resources that work best for any given student is key in helping them to learn CS.
Misconception: CS is for high school students. No! There are computer science learning opportunities for everyone from pre-k students through high school, platforms and curricula that are designed for students in every stage of development. At all levels, pre-k through 12, most of these resources utilize a “low floor, high ceiling” approach that makes it easy for students to get started and still allow them considerable opportunities for advancement (Grover & Pea, 2013).
How can parents help students learn more about CS?