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- Teaching children basic computer literacy skills better prepares them for career opportunities and jobs of tomorrow.
The Colorado Department of Education has academic standards for everything from mathematics to dance, but it took action by the Colorado Legislature to get the ball rolling on technology.
During the 2016 legislative session, the General Assembly passed House Bill 16-1198 requiring CDE to develop and adopt (voluntary) computer science standards for the secondary grades by July 2018. Lawmakers recognize that in many high schools, computer science and coding classes are electives that don't count toward graduation, so few students take them. The new law addresses the problem by allowing schools to count tech courses as credits in mathematics or science.
Meanwhile, more Colorado teachers recognize how important basic computer literacy skills are for those soon to be entering the job market, and are exposing their students to technology-based learning while they can, because the skills learned in a technology-focused class are applicable to most career fields.
"To some of us [technology] is common sense, but to kids, it's not," says Thomas Russell, an information technology teacher at Falcon High School in District 49. "There's a lot of stuff that if they know more about it now, then they'll be better equipped."
Russell, who contributes to the Indy's online Technicalities technology column, began teaching at Falcon High School six years ago with a personal mission to turn students on to tech before they enter higher education, and, of course, the job market.
After restructuring the school's computer science curriculum to reflect current industry trends with classes like cybersecurity, information technology, networking and coding, Russell says class sizes have grown to 22 to 25 kids in each of his three classes per semester — a feat considering that Russell's previous class sizes were around eight to 14 students, and the courses were only offered to freshmen and sophomores.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, careers in computer sciences, which include software development, systems analysis and engineering, web development, programming and more are set to increase by 19 percent in the next three years. But schools still aren't doing quite enough to encourage curricula based in computer science, Russell says, let alone teaching the necessary skills to succeed in an increasingly technological society.
"Kids are not exposed early enough," Russell says. "Having three or four kids in a classroom is just not cutting it."
When Russell began teaching tech curriculum at Falcon, his students were indifferent to the subject matter, he says. Russell adapted his courses based on his own experience in the industry, integrating more applicable technological skills into his classes while emphasizing the importance of other core subjects. Students also get internship opportunities with local companies to get real-world experience.
At the end of the term, Russell says, "I tell them to think about what you knew at first in class and what you know now."
Matt Pacione, a computer technology teacher at Discovery Canyon Campus Middle School, echoes Russell's sentiment about early tech exposure. He encourages his sixth, seventh and eighth graders to get interested in computer sciences now, even if they're not thinking about college or careers yet.
As a part of the International Baccalaureate Diploma Programme, DCC requires that all students in sixth, seventh and eighth grades take design and technology classes, which include computer science. Pacione says his students love the curriculum — learning to create apps, games and more. Currently, he teaches classes of about 20 to 30 students.
"It's fun to see kids [thinking of] themselves as programmers and web designers," Pacione says. "They use the apps and programs every day, and they see the immediate results of learning a computer language to make something with which they are intricately familiar in everyday life."
Next year, Pacione wants to expand DCC's program to include graphic design, robotics and STEM-based classes (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) to take early exposure to another level. The school has also made a job listing for another teacher in their "Gateway to Technology" program, adding to the two teachers currently instructing tech-based design classes, which include robotics, wood shop and drafting.
"Just getting [students] to realize that this is something they can do is motivating," Pacione says.
Seeing students gaining interest and building upon their technological knowledge and skill sets is what it's about for educators like Russell and Pacione — not hitting a standard. Boosting their tech know-how, they feel, surely will set students up for success.