As students begin to sign up for their courses for the 2020-2021 school year, Computer Science teachers everywhere have an awesome opportunity to work towards growing their CS program.
As students begin to sign up for their courses for the 2020-2021 school year, Computer Science teachers everywhere have an awesome opportunity to work towards growing their CS program. Research tells us that the earlier students take a Computer Science course, the more likely they are to pursue CS after high school. This statistic is even more amplified for girls and underrepresented groups, which means that every CS teacher has the ability to support the movement towards increased diversity in CS Education.
You may have a ton on your plate, but hanging up fliers telling students to take CS isn’t going to cut it; it’s passive, and likely attracts students who know they’re interested. Instead, try active recruiting strategies that are easy to implement, effective, and help to reach students who may not know CS is an option for them… and may not even know your course exists!
Go to the students. Connect with the math department chair in your school, and share that you’re working to offer more students the opportunity to take CS. Ask ito reach out to math teachers to coordinate class visits and share a short recruitment video. While you could go to the teachers directly, having the support of the DC leads to more buy-in. Keep your presentation under five minutes, and highlight the different courses you offer. Focus on why students might want to take certain courses – Freshmen, for example, would benefit from starting with FOCS and then moving on to AP CSP and finally CS A, while a rising Senior who knows they want to major in a STEM field might prefer CS A for its more widely accepted CS credit. Record a video version of your presentation for classes you aren’t able to visit using a Screen Recording software, and follow-up with teachers you’ve shared it with to answer any questions.
Resources you can use to get started today:
Sample Presentation (make a copy and make it your own!)
Calendly: Use this resource to give students the opportunity to schedule a one-on-one meeting with you. You can edit to keep your availability up to date.
Work with counselors. Counselors are responsible for a lot: the emotional wellbeing of students, helping to ensure that all students take the required coursework to graduate on time, and – of course – writing hundreds of college recommendations each year. Taking time to discuss different CS course offerings and answering questions can support counselors in driving potential students to your program. Ask to speak at a counseling department meeting, and come prepared with a one pager (like this one I’ve modified from Justin Serota of Anne Arundel County Public Schools). Explain each course in depth, help them differentiate between prerequisites and potential pathways, clear up misconceptions about what type of student might benefit from a CS course, and offer to speak with students one-on-one if they have additional questions.
Reach out to teachers to generate a names list. Work with teachers in your school to identify students who might benefit from taking a Computer Science course. The more passive way to do this is to send out an email with a Google Form attached that teachers can use to recommend students. Incentivize teacher participation by offering to bring coffee for the department with the most recommendations. For the best results, visit each department meeting, and ask teachers to list out student names on an index card or piece of paper. When you have your list of students, send an email sharing that they were recommended by their teacher (include the teacher name for a bigger impact!), share your video presentation, and offer to meet with them one-on-one.
Visit your feeder school. This recruitment action requires administration support in the form of a sub day, but can be incredibly helpful in building a program, as incoming students are signing up for classes, too. Reach out to science teachers at the middle school level or fifth grade teachers at the elementary level, and ask if you can spend a day talking with students about your class. Share that you’ll facilitate a brief computational thinking activity (this is in the Science standards!) and talk briefly about the courses they can take the next year. Keep your presentation under 15 minutes, and you can visit multiple classes each period. An easy activity to run is Program the Teacher – you can run the activity in under 10 minutes, and need no materials. Kids love it! Be sure to follow up with a thank you email after you visit.
Ultimately, you can offer incredible, engaging lessons that students love, but we’ve first got to get them through the door. Growing your computer science program requires active, targeted recruitment strategies that ensure that every student learns that CS is an option for them. And, with the right tools, recruitment is more fun – and more effective – than the flier you’ve been using.
About the Author
Jen Manly is a Computer Science Master Teacher with the University of Maryland’s Terrapins Teacher program. She currently teaches computer science at both the high school and college level, and previously taught middle school CS. Implementing active recruiting strategies led to a one-year program growth of 400% in Jen’s school.