New initiative boosts computer science training in schools

Print More

By ZARIA PHILLIPS
Capital News Service

LANSING– Kindergarten students are learning how to create and share their own computer games. An influx of computer science teachers are teaching teamwork, problem-solving and internet safety to students across Michigan.

The new computer science movement in K-12 schools is making the subject more accessible to everyone, says Shelly Baumann, a middle school teacher at Rockford Public Schools, who has been teaching computer science classes for the past two years.

“I’ve been using Code.org for my middle school coding class. [Teachers] are the lead learners. We learn alongside the students how to improve our logic and thinking with computer science. There’s a need for people who understand technology, and I’m the go-to person in school because I understand how computers work,” she said.

A new organization is offering more teachers the opportunity to teach computer science to K-12 students.

MI-Coding is an initiative started by the Michigan Mathematics and Science Centers Network, based in Ann Arbor, with Code.org — a nonprofit that creates curriculums in computer science courses. The initiative wants to increase the number of teachers qualified to teach computer science classes.

“ [MI-Coding] works out of West Shore Educational District but our intention is to serve schools all across the state, so we have schools involved from Detroit all the way to Detour in the U.P.,” said Kathy Surd who is the West Shore district’s educational service consultant and the West Central regional consultant for MI-Coding.

West Shore Education District is based in Ludington.

The program offers teachers professional learning workshops in computer science education so that districts will have teachers available for computer science courses at no cost to the districts.

“I’ve been to workshops across the country and the training really shows you the courses from the students’ perspective. Parents are coming to me during parent-teacher conference expressing how much their child wants to take my computer science class,” said Kristen Sailors, a teacher at Mona Shores High School in Norton Shores.

Sailors said the program also helps address students’ AP testing struggles and lack of diversity in computer science.  

MI-Coding has received financial and resource support from the MI STEM Advisory Council Grant program and Code.org. Last year, the MI STEM Advisory Council Grant program awarded it $600,000. Other nonfinancial supporters include West Michigan Tech Talent Organization and the College Board.  

This initiative is also intended to help schools meet the new Department of Education curriculum standards for computer science that will be reviewed by the Legislature in February and, if approved, put in place immediately.

The computer science course standards introduced by the Department of Education were created to help Michigan schools compete with the 28 other states that have computer science courses as a graduation requirement.

It’s also part of an effort to improve STEM — science, technology, engineering, and math — skills in the schools.

Regional facilitators offer training in teaching computer science.

“We’ve been trying to really be careful of not giving it a regional feel, that every school across Michigan is involved. The U.P. is a challenge, but we’ve got facilitators working all across the state and teachers have been doing some impressive car rides to be a part of this,” said the treasurer of the Michigan Mathematics and Science Centers Network, Michael Klein.

The Department of Technology, Management and Budget has removed endorsements for teaching certificates in computer science because of a lack of teachers with an educational background in the field. That left teachers with computer science backgrounds but no degree in computer science without an opportunity to teach such courses.

“You don’t have to have a computer science endorsement anymore. You still need a teacher’s certificate but it doesn’t have to be linked to computer science,” Klein said.

Districts  involved include the Caledonia Community Schools, Iron Mountain Public Schools, Ludington Area Schools and Beaver Island Community Schools. There are computer science fundamentals courses for elementary school students, Computer Science Discoveries courses for middle school students and Advanced Placement computer science principles course for high school students.