Take an hour, discover computer programming

Dec 13 2013 - 11:47am

This past week was Computer Science Education Week and many Utah teachers are working with code.org to encourage Utah students to take an hour to discover computer programming. This call to action is necessary because jobs that require computer science skills are growing at twice the national average, yet Utah schools are only graduating enough students to fill half those jobs. This problem is further exacerbated by the issue of gender disparity within computer science, as less than 20 percent of the students involved in computer science in Utah are female.

The first step in addressing this gap between what the Utah economy needs and the Utah education system provides is to make CS fit better into Utah high school graduation requirements. CS courses are currently electives in either the CTE (Career Technical Education) or math programs, but they are as rigorous and valuable as other sciences. The Utah education system should allow a CS course to fill science core requirements. (Core requirements are the classes that every student graduating must fulfill; in Utah, students must take three years of math and three years of science.)  By including computer science in the core it will encourage more students to enter this field including women and under-represented minorities. Additionally, the skills of computer science are relatable and needed within every other science field for both research and economic development of the knowledge generated.

Other states are already moving in this direction, including Georgia, Washington, and Texas. This past Monday, Chicago Public Schools (the third largest public school system in the country) announced that computer science will now be considered a core subject. They plan to offer an introductory computer science class in every Chicago public high school in three years, and an AP computer science course in 50 percent of their high schools within five years. As computer technology is a constantly changing field, Utah cannot afford to stand by and wait for other states to pass us by, causing high-paying and growth-related jobs to leave Utah.

Let's get Utah on the same page as other states. To help make computer science count in Utah:

* Please consider signing the petition at http://tinyurl.com/ut2013petition, asking the Utah Board of Regents to accept a computer science course for its Regents Scholarship.

* Encourage your local school to offer the new Exploring Computer Science course, which counts as an alternate to the Computer Technology graduation credit. Learn more at http://www.westminstercollege.edu/ecs.  

* Go to http://csedweek.org/learn and spend an hour to see what coding is all about! If you already know how to code, introduce someone else to coding. Kids as young as third grade are loving the Angry Birds tutorial!

Henrichsen lives in Salt Lake City. He is president of the Utah chapter of Computer Science Teachers of America.

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