Educators, state leaders recommend computer science as required course

Monday, November 13, 2017

A state commissioned collection of educators and Iowa leaders who looked into computer science education have recommended computer science become a required course in districts throughout Iowa.

“I really think there has been a shift in the economy,” said Erin Rollenhagen, work group member and CEO of Entrepreneurial Technologies of Des Moines. “Students need the skills learned from computer science regardless of what job they are going into. Even if the job is not specifically as a computer programmer or technician, students will be dealing with computers and computational thinking.”

The group suggested computer science be offered at every elementary as a fundamentals of computer science course, every middle school as an exploratory computer science course and every high school as least one high-quality computer science course.

The group — which included teachers, school administrators, college professors, representatives of school boards, community college and technology companies — was established by Senate File 274. The legislation was signed by former Gov. Terry Branstad and encouraged every Iowa school to offer computer science by July 1, 2019.

The group also recommends at the high school level computer science could count toward graduation as a math credit.

Although, Spencer High School dropped computer programming as an elective course many years ago due to lack of enrollment, in the last three years, following renewed need, several teachers have worked coding into their curriculum in business, math, engineering and Challenge courses.

Spencer High School is currently working toward offering a computer science program by the July 1, 2019, goal date.

“We are already at work determining how to get this up and running,” SHS Principal Elli Wiemers said. “We have an eager and able staff of teachers. I know we’ll get it.”

Clay Central-Everly has no computer science class. The district is currently in the process of investigating options for a computer science course offering.

“The most significant obstacles I see are teachers with certification and content knowledge and scheduling,” CC-E Superintendent Dennis McClain said. “The two most important components of any class are an effective teacher and curriculum. With the new requirement for this content, teachers may require professional development for those skill sets.”

Wiemers agreed, teacher training could be an obstacle.

“While we have willing teachers, they may not bear the appropriate licensure,” Wiemers said. “The barriers will come into play if we have no one certified when the Bureau of Educational Examiners requires it. I am optimistic that opportunities will arise and we’ll be successful in meeting requirements that allow teachers to deliver the innovative instruction our kids need.”

Other recommendations the group made include:

—A call to the Iowa Department of Education and Board of Educational Examiners to improve communications with schools about incorporating computer science education into career and technical education programs.

—Setting guidelines for an appropriate scope and sequence of computer science instruction at each grade level.

—Establishing a framework that would determine how the computer science professional development fund created in the legislation could be used to meet the goals of the law.

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