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Competency in Computer Science A Crucial Element of STEM Education

As the global economy grows ever more dependent on digital technologies, our nation’s competitiveness will depend on our ability to educate our students and our workforce in the fundamentals of science and technology. By 2018, STEM jobs are expected to increase 17% and more than 70% of these jobs will be in computer science (CS).

Computer Science Student

Despite the increasing need for competency in STEM, 50% of U.S. schools still don’t have focused STEM programs and schools in 36 states do not grant graduation credit forcourses in CS. Many teachers have limited exposure to CS, rendering them ill-prepared to implement technology in their classrooms. This lack of adequate knowledge and training is compounded by inadequate funding for CS programs. Education Week recently reported that four high schools in California will begin teaching coding and CS classes, but only after student petitions demanded it and crowd-funding campaigns enabled the purchase of needed equipment.
Thankfully, Congress is currently reviewing a new bill that would help states use federal funds to support CS education, but there is still much work to be done to help close the skills gap. Students who take the AP* Computer Science exam are eight times more likely to major in CS in college, but in 2011, only 1% of all AP exams were in CS.
That’s why expert CS teacher consultants like Renee Ciezki are a crucial part of NMSI’s College Readiness Program. Ciezki has taught AP Computer Science for more than 20 years, has been an AP Exam Reader for more than 10 years, and conducts student study sessions for NMSI. We recently asked her about the importance of CS education and how NMSI’s training is helping raise the bar. Her answers are italicized below.
Why is computer science such a critical subject for students to learn?
Other countries are beginning to require computer science education in primary grades. If U.S. students don't learn computer science, they will be left behind as the rest of the world creates new technologies and determines the future. All industries have been impacted by technology, and the logic and problem-solving skills learned in computer science are applicable to all majors and occupations. Those skills transfer to other subjects, and students become better thinkers.
How is NMSI’s AP Computer Science training different from other trainings?
NMSI provides training for teachers AND for students. Through summer institutes and other workshops, teachers learn both the content of the AP Computer Science course and strategies for teaching it effectively. Teachers can participate in a mock reading and gain a better understanding of exam content and the scoring procedures. As a result, students benefit because their teachers are better prepared. Students also have the opportunity to attend Saturday Study Sessions focused on review of course topics and test-taking strategies. Learning from an outside teacher in a fast-paced, rigorous environment has proven to be very helpful to students.
What advice would you give to a student who is interested in computer science?
I encourage all students to take a computer science course in high school. While not all will go on to major in computer science, all will be able to apply the principles to their chosen field. Students interested in pursuing a computer science degree will have a head-start in college and may be able to secure a position as a tutor, lab assistant, or research assistant during their freshman year.
Image Credit: Matylda Czarnecka for use under the Creative Commons
*AP is a registered trademark of the College Board