‘The kids want this’: Four reasons why you should teach computer science
At Code.org, we believe every student in every school should have the opportunity to learn computer science as a foundational subject, just like biology, chemistry, or algebra. However, most schools still don’t offer a computer science class, in large part because there aren’t enough teachers to teach it.
But why would you teach computer science? We were curious to hear from teachers who’ve participated in our professional learning program to begin teaching computer science. So we asked them, and a handful of themes emerged. Read on for their answers. And when you’re ready, we have full-ride scholarships available!
1. Your students really want to learn computer science.
Many teachers we heard from started offering computer science classes because their students were hungry for it.
Ryan Murphy, a high school teacher from Louisiana, was tasked with teaching a CS course when 75 of his school’s 300 students requested it. Murphy, who teaches chemistry and science, dove in and took a professional learning workshop, then brought Code.org’s no-cost curriculum and materials back to the classroom. It was there he saw how deeply his students engaged with it. “It surprised me how quickly they gravitated toward the projects,” he says. “I’ve seen more humor and creativity than I have in any other context.”
Like Murphy, Kyleigh Lewis discovered there was tremendous interest in computer science education at her small rural high school in Nebraska: 65 out of 200 total students enrolled in her CS course, including the children of school board members! She, too, was impressed with her students’ engagement. “It’s empowering to see [my students] create an answer, rather than just finding it in the book,” says Lewis.
The research supports the enthusiasm from students: since 2013, computer science has become the 4th most popular STEM career, according to the ACT’s Conditions of STEM report. We’ve also found that students like computer science class more than schoolwork in general. In fact, computer science is the second most popular subject, behind the arts!
2. You can make serious inroads toward gender and racial equity in education.
Because computer science is a foundational subject for all 21st-century careers, access to it in K–12 is an equity issue the country needs to address.
For Ryan Brown, a middle and high school teacher in Pennsylvania, bringing Code.org’s computer science curriculum into his classroom meant giving his students access to interests and career options they would not have otherwise had. “We’re an economically disadvantaged school,” he says, “so the emphasis on equity and access is great. I had a student who fought me tooth and nail when I was introducing him to the curriculum, and just got accepted into an internship program with Nest. He told me, ‘I’m so glad you got me to do this.’”
At Code.org, access to and equity in computer science is a key focus and it’s central to how we approach professional learning. And thanks to teachers like Brown, we’re making progress. According to research conducted by West Coast Analytics, schools in the Code.org program see greater participation rates in CS Principles exams among female and underrepresented minority students:
Those same Code.org students also pass the AP CS Principles exam at much higher rates, a result that directly reflects our teachers’ commitment to equity in the classroom.
3. You’ll be part of a diverse, supportive community transforming education.
A strong sense of support and community is the most consistent takeaway for teachers in Code.org’s professional learning programs.
For Renee Hanson, a middle-school teacher from Omaha, Nebraska, going to a workshop in Arizona felt a little like the first day at a new school. “I was thinking what am I doing here, I’m in a room full of computer science teachers and I don’t even know what computer science is,” she says. But almost immediately, she found she wasn’t the only one new to computer science. She also marveled at how accessible everyone seemed to be, a trend that’s continued even after the workshops.
“No one was off limits, you could ask anyone anything at any time,” she says. “So I could say, and I did say, I don’t even know how to start.”
Many of the teachers we’ve heard from were new to computer science, like Hanson. Teachers came with backgrounds in subjects like English and social studies, but at the workshops, many say they found the curriculum and tools easy to understand and to use. They also say their fellow learners and facilitators were accessible, open, and enthusiastic.
We believe such diversity is beneficial, and the stats bear this out. Teachers from all backgrounds make great CS teachers, and student outcomes don’t suffer under Code.org teachers new to CS — in fact, they’re identical to student outcomes under teachers with a CS background!
4. You can take what you learn into other subjects.
Again and again, teachers said that, while learning to teach computer science, they discovered teaching tools and methods they could use to engage their students in all of their classes.
For Kyleigh Lewis, it was the ‘lead learner’ method, which involves shifting from being the source of knowledge to being a leader in seeking knowledge. “As a teacher,” she says, “I might not have the answer right away, but working with the gurus in your classroom, all the answers can be found.”
Other teachers mentioned things like inquiry-based teaching, process wheels, and designated student experts. Many, like Jaime DiPierro, appreciated the role that frustration can play in the learning process, and the ways the workshops prepared them to manage it in their students. “Code.org does a good job of reminding you to encourage frustration,” says DiPierro, a high school teacher from Florida. “In this environment, frustration is good, it means that you’re learning. It’s developing [my students] into good problem solvers.”
Students carry what they learn in computer science classes into other subject areas, too. That’s because Code.org’s curriculum emphasizes skills like critical thinking and problem-solving that transfer to nearly every subject area.
This all sounds fantastic — so how do I get started?
There are a number of great reasons to teach computer science, and with Code.org’s professional learning programs, it’s so simple to get started. Just head to our professional learning page and choose your grade.
This year, we’re offering a number of full-ride scholarships for our middle and high school workshops! To apply, click here.
Eric Fershtman, Code.org