Department of Education celebrates Computer Science Education Week and looks to the future

Published: Dec. 7, 2021 at 7:12 PM CST
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CHEYENNE, Wyo. (Wyoming News Now) - Computer Science Education Week is a national call to action to inspire K-12 students to learn about computer science.

Six years ago, when the WDE began celebrating the week, celebrations looked different.

“Teachers were taking time out of their day and doing coding activities or learning a little bit more about computer science. At that time there weren’t a lot of schools that had integrated that into their school day or had teachers that felt comfortable teaching it,” said Department of Education Superintendent Jillian Balow.

Boot Up Wyoming 2022 is an initiative announced by the WDE in 2018, with plans to implement a computer science curriculum in all Wyoming schools.

Computer science and computational thinking were added to the state educational program by the Wyoming Legislature in 2018. Since then, standards have been developed by the WDE and are available to teachers. The WDE has also created a curriculum that will be implemented for the 2022 school year.

Teachers are being offered training in computer science education. Depending on the teacher’s preference there are online courses to learn the basics or more comprehensive training for those who want an in-depth understanding of computer science.

“We’re working closely to figure out how that translates on a teaching certificate. Right now, we call it a micro-credential, which basically means a teacher has taken enough training to be proficient at integrating that into their grade level or content area,” said Balow.

Classes and course material will include a variety of different technological lessons. Soft skills like innovation, collaboration, teamwork, and problem-solving will also be taught and emphasized.

“Computer science is not just coding or computer programming. It is an umbrella term for a lot of really interesting and enticing fields in technology,” said Balow.

Standards for computer science education for younger students are based on technology-free or unplugged lessons.

Learning without electronics may look like learning how to give directions, solving problems, finding mistakes, and thinking algorithmically.

“These aren’t skills that we traditionally see taught in classrooms to the degree they are with computer science, and to the degree that they need to be to prepare students for a workforce that is largely dependent on technology and innovation with technology, regardless of what the field is,” said Balow.

Wyoming leads the nation in computer science education. Fast uptake and implementation of computer science standards have kept the state at the forefront. The WDE is sharing methods and standards with other states, which is an opportunity to continue learning and improving.

“We think Wyoming is doing a great job, that’s why we’re a national leader, and we want other states to follow our lead,” said Balow.

When it comes to accessibility, the WDE is aware that access to devices and broadband is important to learning computer science, but not an end-all.

According to Balow, in 2020 when students learned remotely, Wyoming saw device access reach a one-to-one ratio. Meaning every student in the state has access to some sort of electronic device.

“It is possible to learn computer science without having broadband access or even a device... it’s important to note we can inspire kids in computer science without access to technology. But we can’t inspire kids to be excited about computer science if we are not teaching computer science,” said Balow.

Access to broadband remains an issue for students in rural Wyoming. The WDE is working with Wyoming companies to provide high-speed broadband access to students across the state.

Educational access is also a concern the WDE is aware of and working to provide resources for. Students around the state will be taught a high-level computer science curriculum.

“Of course, when I think about access, I’m also thinking about our students on the Wind River Reservation, and our Title 1 schools... There’s an access issue there, and one way we’ve dealt with that in Wyoming is by making grants available to address those students who don’t historically have access to education opportunities,” said Balow.

Balow and the WDE have also made grants available to recipients who focus on recruiting girls into computer science. This doesn’t mean boys are excluded from those programs, just that there is an extra effort to engage girls in technology and computer science.

Historically, the biggest gap in computer science education is between men and women. Usually, more men study and work in STEM fields than women.

“It’s not that girls aren’t excited about coding or computer science, we just need to give them more entry points to it, and once they have that on-ramp, typically their interest level is the same as boys,” said Balow.

In Wyoming, integrating computer science education into the school curriculum falls under the Boot Up Initiative. For more information about Boot Up Wyoming or the new computer science curriculum, visit the Department of Education website.

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