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Computer Science: The Big Picture

As I prepare to meet with a local School Board member and a magnet high school principal to discuss implementing computer programming in the high school, I have to wonder what has taken them so long! It seems like a no-brainer to me (but then I guess I'm one who is singing in the choir). The Bureau of Labor Statistics states that "Employment of software developers is projected to grow 30 percent from 2010 to 2020, much faster than the average for all occupations," so why aren't students and parents beating down our doors? And then I remember my own daughter telling me (during my Accounting I class) "Mom, no one says they want to grow up to be an Accountant." Insert Computer Programmer and there we have it! The student perception of these occupations is pretty dismal, but in fact the careers are far from dismal! (Given my druthers, I would most certainly choose Computer Programmer over Accountant although the combination of the two would be quite marketable.)

An article in our Sunday newspaper highlighted a Computer Science professor and two students at Wake Forest University working on a cure for cancer (Video Game vs. Cancer). The requisite skills for the team of scientists: "the ability to comprehend, interpret and apply complex concepts and data in a new format; the pursuit or completion of advanced degrees; patience and a tireless work ethic, and being a video game master." Doesn't everyone want to find a cure for cancer? Who would have thought that being a "video game master" was a required skill? Again, I guess I am singing in the choir on this subject as well. For our statewide computer programming curriculum next year, we will be field testing the use of XNA Game Studio to apply the C# programming concepts the students learn in class. We knew we had to do something when we saw the huge drop-off in enrollment from the first course to the second course. We'll see how this goes, but preliminary word-of-mouth reports tell us that the students are very interested.

And, that's not the only change we have made in our statewide curriculum. We have a new course for freshmen titled Foundations of Information Technology that will allow the students to see the kind of work that is done in each of the four pathways we have in the IT Career Cluster: Programming and Software Development, Web and Digital Communications, Information Support and Services, and Network Systems. Most ninth graders have no clue what a network engineer or network administrator does, let alone a software developer. And most ninth graders can see no connection between high school and his/her world beyond. This course is intended to appeal to the target market while directing them to further study while in high school and beyond. These young students do need to see the big picture so they can graduate from high school "college and career ready".

Additionally, we have completely revamped our Network Administration I and II courses to provide students the opportunity to earn Microsoft certifications (something beyond MOS certifications that are available in every high school in our state). Also, we're refreshing our e-Commerce I course by updating the content to teach HTML 5.0 and the applications of social media and mobile computing in an e-commerce environment. AND, we have also been fortunate enough to be asked to participate in a pilot of the Computer Science Principles course by partnering with Dr. Tiffany Barnes at UNC Charlotte. What a great opportunity for our teachers and students to explore the Beauty and Joy of Computing! We have eight classroom teachers participating in the pilot, and a section of the course will be taught through the state virtual public school.

We are working diligently in our state to interest and inform students about the world of opportunities that awaits them in the computer science world. It's not just about computer programming, but that's a great fit for some of the students. That's where I got my start, but now there are so many more venues to explore. And the interrelationships among disciplines are fascinating and create even more opportunities.

What are you doing to interest students in the wonderful world of computer science?

Video Game vs. Cancer: http://www.newsobserver.com/scitech/
Career Clusters: http://www.careertech.org/

Deborah Seehorn
CSTA State Department Representative


Wonderful post but I was wondering if you could write a litte more on this topic? I'd be very grateful if you could elaborate a little bit further. Many thanks!

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