By: Michelle Pierce

Computer Science is at the foundation of all innovation in today’s society. As such, the need for a quality Computer Science Education is critical. The US Bureau of Labor and Statistics predicts that “the employment of computer and information research scientists is projected to grow 23 percent from 2022 to 2032, much faster than the average for all occupations.”  With that type of growth, it is clear that more students need access to quality Computer Science classes in order to meet this demand. As technology rapidly advances and impacts almost all areas of life, it is critical that the field of education adjusts to the changing times. Thankfully many states are making changes to their Computer Science Education policies. According to the 2023 State of Computer Science Education Report,  “in 2023, 34 states had adopted or updated 38 policies to make computer science foundational, including 28 states that funded computer science education.” 

But how do we engage students in taking classes that they are either unfamiliar with or have no interest in? This is a problem that I have had to tackle head-on in my role as a Middle School Computer Science Teacher. At the STEM-focused Charter School where I teach, all 6th-8th grade students are required to take Computer Science each year. Because it is required, many of my students enter my classroom for the first time wondering why they are there. 


That’s why I always start each semester with the why. Why is exposure to a Computer Science Education so important? Students learn that the skills that will be reinforced throughout the semester are skills that will benefit them in life no matter what industry they pursue. It’s important for students to understand that a Computer Science Education will help them with life skills such as teamwork, perseverance, problem-solving, and critical-thinking. Numerous studies have shown a positive relationship between students taking Computer Science classes and increased test scores in subjects like science and math. For those who choose to pursue a career in the Computer Science industry, there is a high-demand for employees with plenty of opportunity for growth. 

Relationship Building

But even when they understand the why, many students are skeptical. In order to gain their trust, it is important to focus on relationship building.  From the beginning of the semester, I try to connect with as many students as I can to make them feel seen. This can be done in small ways throughout the day. For instance, I have seen the positive impact of greeting students by name and with a smile each morning. Whenever possible, I try to attend their sporting events. My classroom is designed to feel warm and inviting. Students don’t learn when they don’t feel safe.  I want students to want to be in my room. Every year I have students who tell me that they aren’t interested in Computer Science, but come to class because of me. They know that I am going to offer a consistent experience, hold them to high standards, but also be willing to have fun while we learn. 

Having Fun 

There has been such a push for testing and rigor, that sometimes educators forget kids still need to have fun. Whenever possible, I try to incorporate fun into my classroom. I’m not afraid to look silly in front of my students, even if it means doing the chicken dance to reinforce a lesson on how loops can be found in music and dance, just like in Computer Science. Being open to silliness and vulnerability helps students feel more comfortable with stepping out of their comfort zone. When educators model pushing through mistakes, it gives students permission to be ok with making mistakes as well. Being able to troubleshoot or debug effectively, is a critical part of Computer Science. Helping each other work through mistakes helps to create a more collaborative environment. 

Real-World Exploration/Relatability 

Making the connection between what is happening in the classroom and the real world is another critical component. Students need to hear real-world examples of how decisions in the world of Computer Science influence their lives, whether they know it or not. They are more likely to want to learn more about Computer Science when they can make the connection to their own lives. For example, a lesson about cloud computing can help students understand what happens to their data when they save photos or files to the cloud. A virtual tour of the Amazon Fulfillment Center shows students the process from when they place an Amazon order to when it arrives at their door. As Educators, we have to find ways to present the material in relatable ways. In order for the classroom experience to be equitable, students need to see themselves in the materials that are used. Educators must be intentional about utilizing resources that are reflective of the students they teach. 

Changes are happening across the country, as policymakers are beginning to see the value of a Computer Science Education. Educators need to be ready to meet the growing demand for Computer Science classes. By focusing on relationship-building, having fun, and real-world exploration/ relatability, Computer Science Educators can take advantage of the surging interest and exposure to capture the attention and engage a new group of future Computer Scientists. 


About the Author
IMG 20230913 102725 Michelle Shomo Pierce

Michelle is in her 5th year of teaching Middle School Computer Science at Mallard Creek STEM Academy in Charlotte, NC, where she was named the 2022-2023 Middle School Teacher of the Year. She also teaches Digital Citizenship lessons to all of the K-8 students at the school. Michelle previously taught elementary school for 3 years. In addition to teaching, she also serves as a Girls Who Code facilitator, Team Lead, and mentor. In 2023, Michelle received the CS Teaching Excellence Award. In 2021, she was recognized as an Amazon Future Engineer Teacher of the Year and is currently serving as an Amazon Future Engineer Teacher Ambassador. Michelle is passionate about exposing students from underrepresented populations to all of the opportunities that Computer Science has to offer. She is supported in her endeavors by her husband, Michael, and her two children.