Now more than ever, computer science education is gaining significant traction. Over the past decade, K-12 schools across the country and around the world have begun to broaden their perspective on providing young learners with access to a quality CS education. More than 500 leaders in the tech industry, governors in all 50 states, countless K-12 educators, and the rapidly growing area of educational non-profit organizations linked to CS almost unanimously agree about the importance the role of technology plays in our lives. They have called for providing every student with access to quality computer science instruction. While it is widely acknowledged that nearly every industry is impacted by the revolutionary changes in digital technology, the U.S. currently produces too few specialists in important computer science fields. As a result, lack of trained professional roles in cybersecurity and artificial intelligence are viewed as a national security risk. Providing compulsory exposure to CS from an early age is linked to maintaining economic growth. At the same time, it is vital that the attention computer science education is getting, addresses historical underrepresented groups in technology fields based on gender and race.
This computer science education movement means that K-12 CS programs can no longer be viewed as a special skill for a small group of students. Traditionally, K-12 CS teachers exist as an isolated system within the broader K-12 educational system. In this way, CS educators exist in a silo. Computers and computer science instruction are often treated like a black box. A machine that few select people understand the inner workings of. This traditional approach to CS education does not align with the vision that CS education should be an opportunity for all.
CS education must break free from its silo, and embrace its role as a foundational skill. Just like we read and write everyday, computers have become an essential part of our daily lives. It is critical that everyone learns how to use technology to solve problems and think logically. The concepts of CS are relevant whether you work in CS or not. And all educators, whether they teach CS instruction directly or not, should impart on their students the importance of becoming creators rather than users of tech.
To build equitable CS programs and pathways, all K-12 stakeholders must build experiences across all K-12 levels that impart the understanding that computer science’s ways of thinking, problem solving, and creating have become invaluable to all parts of life. Programs should embrace the theme of developing students as informed citizens that engage in critical discussion about CS topics, develop as creators of computer science knowledge and artifacts, understand the role of computing in the world around them, and be able to express themselves and other subjects and interests through computer science.
In order to establish equitable CS programs in K12 schools, CS instruction should be integrated within other subject areas. Based on my experiences and practice, I feel the best approach is to train ALL teachers to teach CS within existing standards and objectives by developing interdisciplinary instruction that is engaging, easy to use, and woven into various curriculums. Admittedly, this approach comes with plenty of known challenges, so I have provided some actionable steps for building equitable computer science programs for schools, districts, and state leaders.
- Prioritize assessing and addressing biases: Provide a diverse range of examples, projects and role models that resonate with and include students from various backgrounds.
- Encourage diverse participation and representation: Develop inclusive classrooms that foster the ability for all students to see themselves in the field of computer science. Showcase diverse role models and incorporate stories of underrepresented individuals and groups that have made significant contributions to the field.
- Expand access and support: Develop equitable access to CS courses that cater to students of diverse skill levels, while making sure laptops, software, and internet access are accessible to all students.
- Professional development: Offer ongoing learning opportunities for all educators. Collaborate with non-profit organizations and experts to develop training that focuses on strategies that support students from diverse backgrounds.
- Curriculum review and alignment: Review CS curricula to ensure alignment with inclusive teaching practices and evolving best practices in CS education standards and frameworks such as those developed by CSTA and CSForALL.
- Partnerships with community organizations: Reach out to community organizations, local businesses, and industry professionals to provide mentorship opportunities, internships, and scholarships for students from underrepresented groups to help forge pathways into computer science.
- Policy and funding support: Advocate for state-level policies that make equitable computer science education a priority. Support districts by funding programs and resources that implement CS for all students regardless of background or geography.
- Develop collaborative networks: Establish state level groups that bring educators, researchers, policymakers, and industry experts together to share best practices, research findings, and resources. These networks can then lead the dissemination of successful initiatives and support statewide guidelines for equitable program development.
- Broaden CS pathways: Encourage the integration of CS into various instructional disciplines. Promote Computational Thinking and coding activities into subjects such as math, science, language arts and social studies.
Creating more equitable computer science programs requires a multi-faceted approach at the school, district, and state levels. By addressing biases, expanding access, fostering diverse representation, and collaborating with community organizations, educators and education leaders can build inclusive and transformative computer science programs. Let us work collectively to ensure that every student, regardless of their background, has an equal opportunity to thrive in the exciting world of computer science.
About the author
Dr. Tim Swick is the lead teacher of the Computer Science Immersion School at Sandlapper Elementary in Columbia, South Carolina. He has been teaching elementary school for 22 years. In 2019, Tim became the lead teacher of the newly formed Computer Science Immersion School at Sandlapper Elementary with the mission of bringing CS to ALL students at the school. Over the past four years, he coordinated the development of a school-wide integrated computer science curriculum that blends the use of robotics, block-based coding, and Minecraft Education with different grade-level content and subject areas. As a result of his work, Sandlapper was recognized by the Magnet Schools of America Association as the 2022 Top New and Emerging Magnet School in America. He is a National Board Certified Teacher and holds a doctorate in Curriculum and Instruction from the University of South Carolina with a focus on Educational Technology and Innovative Learning Design. His dissertation studied the impact of Computational Thinking in a school Makerspace. He was selected as a winner of the 2022 CSTA/Infosys Foundation USA CS Teaching Excellence Awards and has been selected to the 2022 class of SC ASCD Emerging Leaders. In his role, he strives to motivate student participation in CS at an early age. He feels that early engagement in CS is vital for under-represented students to get involved with CS careers.