By BRIDGET BUSH
Capital News Service
LANSING – Michigan lawmakers, university officials and local school systems have taken up the fight to improve how well the state’s students learn to be high tech producers and consumers.
Just this fall, Michigan State University redesigned a course that will teach 175 student teachers to incorporate computational thinking into curriculum. And the university is offering a new graduate certificate in creative computing to about 250 teachers for professional development.
Aman Yadav, MSU associate professor of counseling, educational psychology and special education and director of its Masters of Arts in Educational Technology program, sees the greater purpose of this new approach to be “moving students from consumers of technology to creators and producers.”
Meanwhile, lawmakers are considering a bill that would allow computer programming to count as a foreign language or arts requirement. The bill was approved by the House in May and is in the Senate Committee on Education.
The bill keeps control at the local school board level, but “creates a bucket of 21st century skills,” said Jennifer Smith, director of government relations for the Michigan Association of School Boards.
Local schools aren’t waiting for help.
Ludington Area Schools recognized the importance of technology four years ago. A bond passed in 2012 created a one-to-one program, providing every K-12 student with an iPad.
Last December, at a lunch, recent high school graduates discussed their experience with computer use in college, Ludington technology director Andy Klevorn said.
In meeting with these students, who attend the University of Michigan, Grand Valley State University and the local community college in Ludington, among others, the school district learned that the computer skills they learned in high school were ahead of the technology used in college classrooms, Klevorn said.
While Ludington requires students to use tools such as Google Drive extensively to share documents with teachers, many college professors required essays on Word Document, sent by email or turned in as a hard copy, Klevorn said. Hearing this is encouraging because “it feels like we’re ahead of the curve and colleges need to catch up to us.”
Ludington Area Schools provides a full time technology coach to any Ludington teacher by appointment, Klevorn said.
The coach can “help weave technology into lesson plans,” a goal that modeling workshops make possible, Klevorn said. He described this as an opportunity for “one teacher to work individually with one technology coach to develop their own lesson plan,” which is then taught to a room full of their colleagues and debriefed the following day.
This is still a work in progress and “will take a few years for the curriculum to catch up,” Klevorn said.
“It’s easy to just hand a student an iPad,” he said, but it takes time to implement and mix new standards into existing curriculum. However, “the public schools are still hampered somewhat by the legislature’s emphasis on testing and achievement.”
Klevorn said, With funding back to the levels Ludington saw nearly ten years ago, the district seeks innovative solutions to increasingly important computer science skills and access to technology.
Business leaders increasingly view computer science as a basic skill needed to be competitive in the job market, Yadav said.
While projections show that nearly half of all science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) jobs will belong to the field of computer science by 2018, MSU’s Yadav its “computational thinking, ideas, and practices” are interdisciplinary.
Understanding how to generate and interpret algorithms is a thinking process that translates into any career field, whether a student pursues business, law, design or other fields. Just one quarter of all K-12 schools in the United States offer computer science with programming and coding, Yadav said/
MSU’S College of Education is the first to make a concerted effort to address and solve this educational gap, Yadav said. While exposure to the concepts and vocabulary should begin in the early years of elementary education, implementation of computer science at the high school level is the subject of a National Science Foundation grant he leads,
Yadav said faculty are working to ensure that their teaching graduates, “both incoming and existing professionals,” master the basics of computer science to pass onto the students.
By BRIDGET BUSH