Want to Improve STEM Education? Look Beyond Computer Science Class

By Allie VanNest

Well-paying jobs are out there. Data shows us where they are and what skills we need in order to do them effectively. In fact, more of these jobs are becoming available every year… yet, the majority are not being filled. So where’s the disconnect?

A 2018 report from Glassdoor reveals that thirteen of the top twenty-five highest-paying jobs right now are in the tech industry — requiring not just technical skills, but also communication and leadership skills.

In order to produce a sufficient number of qualified candidates to take on these new computer science roles, our education system needs to adapt. It needs to help students to learn the technology and communication skills necessary to take them on.

The Problem with Computer Science Class

A 2017 article from Quartz, aptly titled, “You probably should have majored in computer science,” reports: “There are almost 10 times more U.S. computing jobs open right now than there were students who graduated with computer science degrees in 2015.”

computer science, classroom, littlebits

Considering the number of high-paying computer science jobs left unfilled, and the particular combination of technical and leadership communication skills required to get these jobs, taking a closer look at the way our schools are teaching computer science (CS) is a good first step. One notable issue is that CS lacks cohesiveness and continuity between and inside school districts.

A 2018 report by Google on the state of CS education explains that schools need a comprehensive set of state-level or other shared standards that can be rolled out across grade levels. This is much different from the more isolated computer science classes or clubs that exist in many schools. These programs, while often largely beneficial to students and taught by highly qualified instructors, minimize the number of students who are exposed to CS and narrow the context in which CS is taught.

In too many schools, there only a few “smart” kids who learn CS in a bubble. That’s awful and it needs to be addressed!

Integrating Computer Science Into Other Subjects

code kit, littleBits, classroom, computer science

One way to provide CS education to everyone is to integrate computer science instruction into other classes throughout the school day. This checks a few boxes: it ensures that more students get access to CS education, it increases the perceived importance of CS as it becomes part of more “traditional” classes, and it encourages the use of real-world projects as a means for students to learn CS knowledge and skills.

Consider this Massachusetts school that integrated computer science into every one of its classes, with students solving Calculus problems with Python, coding basic animations to act out plays in English class, and even creating drawings with code in Art class.

Or this story about the Finnish approach to teaching computer science across the curriculum (and sometimes without the use of computers).

This type of cross-curricular, project-based computer science education offers all students the chance to tap into not an exciting, hands-on form of education and a pathway to abundant, high-paying jobs. What’s not to like?

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