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Panel of Experts Discuss Importance of Computer Science in K-12 Schools

From left, Carol Giuriceo, Ann Moskol, Holly Walsh, Joe Devine, Dominic Herard and Jennifer Robinson.

From left, Carol Giuriceo, Ann Moskol, Holly Walsh, Joe Devine, Dominic Herard and Jennifer Robinson.

 

While information technology continues to advance at a phenomenal rate and significantly contribute to the U.S. economy, the U.S. is not producing enough young people who are academically prepared to lead in the field of technology.

This was among the opening remarks made by Ron Pitt, RIC vice president of academic affairs, at a recent panel discussion on computer science education in grades K-12. The discussion was moderated by the director of the RI STEM Center, Carol Giuriceo.

The panel consisted of

Joe Devine – partner at Bridge Technical Talent, an information technology staffing firm.

Dominic Herard – computer science teacher at Times2 STEM Academy and vice president of the Computer Science Teachers Association (CSTA) of Rhode Island.

Ann Moskol – RIC professor of mathematics and computer science and president of CSTA.

Jennifer Robinson – technology education instructor at Winman Junior High School. And

Holly Walsh – e-learning and instructional technology specialist for the Rhode Island Department of Education.

To open the discussion, Giuriceo asked the panelists to explain the importance of computer science education. All of the speakers pointed to technology’s pervasiveness and how it impacts every aspect of society, “even shaping how we educate our children.”

According to Herard, in today’s digital age, school children are asked to bring not only pencil and paper to class, but their own tech devices, such as I-phones and I-pads, to conduct research on the Internet or to use as a calculator in math courses. Yet while we are teaching them how to use technology, we are not teaching them how to build or program these devices, Herard said. “I’d like to see our children become not only consumers but creators.”

Moskol found that students are often wary of the term “computer science” because they do not have a full understanding of what it entails. She said she would like to see the field demystified for children at an early age, which would encourage more students to major in the field.

She would also like to see a change in the way computer science is taught. “There has been a paradigm shift in the last 30 years from teaching programming to teaching applications, such as Microsoft Office and PowerPoint,” she said. Moskol sees this as problematic and would like to see more opportunities for students to learn the science behind the applications.

Herard noticed the shift as well, but defined it as a change in students’ interests. He said that young peoples’ interest in programming has waned since the era of Bill Gates and Steve Jobs. They are not as interested in becoming hobbyists, working out of their garages and creating code. They are more interested in graphical user interfaces. “The challenge is to teach them programming along with a variety of other computer science activities that interest them,” Herard said.

Robinson, who teaches computer science at Winman Junior High School in Warwick, said that she offers a variety of activities in her classroom, including graphics, video, animation and the use of 3-D printers, as well as programming.

But Devine said schools that offer such extensive programs, or any program at all, are few and far between in the state, and “only 36 of the 50 states make computer science a requirement in order to graduate from high school.”

While computer science is transforming industry and bolstering the economy, it’s time to recognize its importance in education, say these experts.