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Computer Science for all Students?!

We have known for hundreds of years that chemistry provides the building blocks of our world. Pick up the item nearest to you and you will find that it was made with chemistry.

Computer science provides the building blocks of our increasingly technological world. After you put together the silica, etch it with acids, and treat it with other chemicals, you use computer science to make it do cool things. Where would my daily run be without my mp3 player? Where would my friendships across the country be without the wonder of free wireless internet at the local cafe? These were made with computer science.

Introductory chemistry is (fairly) straightforward; as a society we believe chemistry is valuable for students to understand. Of course we don't expect all our students to become chemists, but we want adults in our society to know about chemistry in order to be competent individuals who can cook, use common household products safely, and make informed voting decisions. It isn't until the second year in college with organic chem that it becomes an intensely challenging "weed out" course. And it isn't until medical school that we truly force our students into intensely challenging conditions, in part because "that is the way we have always done it."

Why is it, then, that computer science has adopted an attitude more like medical school than introductory chemistry? Why don't we provide an accessible and fun introductory course that gives students the building blocks of the discipline? It seems that we teachers have the attitude that the way we learned computer science was through programming, and it was hard, and that is how we should teach.

I would like to see a new model, one where computer science is accessible to all students, where it is a standard part of the core curriculum, and where it is fun! This is part of why I am so excited about the Level 2 curriculum outline and the whole ACM Model Curriculum for K12 Computer Science. But it will take more than the new curriculum - teachers have to use fun tools and games like Sudoku and role play to engage students. We can make computer science accessible without dumbing it down if we just try.

Michelle Hutton
CSTA Equity Chair
Girls' Middle School

Comments

We are using the ACM model curriculum at Lake Highland in Orlando, FL.
Our school was recently accredidated for another 5 years and our computer science department was commended for giving students real world experiences in the class.
Yippee for computer science!

Michelle, I agree with you 100%. Everyone should have the opportunity to learn basic computer science in a user-friendly way!

I'm a school psychologist, but I'm also a part-time computer student. Lots of people study psychology. Many students are happy to earn college degrees in the subject, without the intention of becoming psychologists. Learning psychology, like chemistry, provides people with a good foundation for further study � and for life.

I agree that computer courses don't need to be structured using the "weed out" mentality. This strips the discipline of joy. It doesn't need to be this way, as you know. What is taught in one semester could be taught creatively, in a user-friendly manner, in two semesters, if that is what it takes.

This is not dumbing down the curriculum. This is simply providing people with an integrated, meaningful, and engaging curriculum. I believe that this approach is more likely to set the stage to support further learning in any field, since all fields are touched or supported by technology and computer science in some way.

How can we make this happen? We have to provide guidance to those who guide young people. A "guide the guider" approach might be part of the solution.

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