As we witness ongoing budget and policy debates and recoil at deep cuts to education, it is especially rewarding to see legislation emerge from Hartford focused on improving access to computer science for K-12 students. With the goal of preparing Connecticut’s youth for tomorrow’s careers, this action is a first step to bring attention, build capacity and expand outreach.
The bill, SB 957, was approved by the House and the Senate and transmitted to Gov. Ned Lamont last week.
The legislation establishes the legitimacy of computer science as a school subject via teacher certification. The bill also requires that teacher-preparation programs in the state provide some training in computer science. Policy is now catching up to what many Connecticut students and teachers already know: learning computer science is essential, empowering and engaging. Computer science skills are applicable and increasingly expected in a large variety of careers — technical, entrepreneurial, academic, and creative.
Unfortunately, many K-12 students are not exposed to computer science, curtailing the talent pool. By requiring school counselors in grades 6 to 12 to consider computer science part of a student’s success plan, this legislation may encourage more students, especially female and minority students, to enhance their career choices by pursuing courses in computer science.
As school systems and institutions of higher education scramble to accommodate these changes, one Connecticut institution is poised to lead the way — Sacred Heart University is well ahead of the curve promoting a robust computer science pipeline from school to career.
Proposing an innovative partnership between the College of Education and School of Computer Science & Engineering, SHU was selected in 2018 as the Connecticut home of leading national nonprofit Code.org®, a provider of computer science curriculum and professional learning for K-12 teachers. This July, more than 50 teachers from across the state will gather at SHU for one week to learn content and pedagogy so they can bring computer science courses to over 5,000 students next year. We applaud these teachers — most of whom have no prior experience teaching computer science — for willingly stepping into something new to benefit their students.
SHU is committed to ongoing teacher support and development, administrator outreach, educational research and policy advocacy. The University has already created the first and only State-approved pathway for endorsement in computer science teaching, with courses beginning this summer.
SHU offers majors in computer science, engineering, information technology, cybersecurity, and game design. Greater preparation enhances the rigor of undergraduate programs, a needed boost for students to prepare for emerging advanced fields like artificial intelligence and machine learning.
These efforts are one piece of SHU’s commitment to STEM education. SHU has been recognized by the prestigious Robert Noyce Scholarship Program, which provides scholarships to recruit and prepare STEM majors for teaching careers K-12. Through this grant, aspiring elementary educators can elect a STEM major, including courses in teaching computer science to the youngest students.
For those who might share initial doubts about introducing computer science to younger students, I assure you, computer science pedagogy in 2019 is not staring blankly at a screen transcribing code. Many lessons are conducted without digital devices as students explore programming concepts, problems and solutions. When I watch computer science lessons, I see problem-solving, collaboration, personal expression, critical thinking, perseverance and, eventually, pride. Students know they have succeeded, not because of a grade or a reward, but because something of their own design worked the way they intended it to.
We know that over 90% of parents want computer science in schools, while fewer than half offer it. So, what’s next? Parents should insist upon coherent computer science pathways in local schools, and educators need to jump in! There is a community of computer science teachers in Connecticut and SHU here to support you.
I’m grateful that the ongoing requests from industry and researchers for enhanced computer science are being heeded. Connecticut is the first state to require computer science experience in teacher preparation. This legislation will stoke K-12 districts, colleges and universities to ensure that Connecticut is producing the professionals needed to ensure continued growth, steady employment and economic stability over the coming decades.
Darcy Ronan, Ph.D., is an assistant professor of education at Sacred Heart University.
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