Three Best Ways to Tackle the Tech Skills Gap in the Classroom

Three Best Ways to Tackle the Tech Skills Gap in the Classroom

Originally published by howtolearn.com on Jan 16, 2019

The tech industry is in desperate need of workers who possess computer science skills – with more than a half-million open tech positions in the United States.

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts that there will be a million more jobs available in computing by 2020 than qualified applicants who can fill those roles.

Why the large gap in tech jobs vs. tech applicants? Most of today’s workforce did not have access to computer-science education as part of their learning foundation like students do today.

For those individuals who did not receive this education, dozens of computer science programs – online, in-person and after work hours – have been instituted over the past several years to help this segment of the population learn the tech skills that the job market is demanding and help them fill positions in fields that desperately need workers.

While many programs have seen success and continued participation, they are not closing the gap at a rapid enough pace.

What else can be done to close the skills gap? While current adult-education programs for computer science are beneficial, we also need to be intentional about how tech skills are introduced to children at an early age.

Children need to not only learn foundational skills but also be provided with the full spectrum of how these tech skills can be applied in various careers to maintain their interest as they mature.

While most educators agree on the importance of implementing and supporting STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) curriculum, only six states require all K-12 students have access to computer science courses during the school day.

Even without nationwide funding and resources for such programs, there are three best ways to tackle the tech skills gap in the classroom and incorporate computer science learning in the classroom through innovative STEM curriculum platforms.

Choose a Teacher Advocate

One common misconception surrounding STEM curriculum in the classroom is that it requires staff with STEM expertise.

The fear for many teachers is that – if they don’t possess the tech skills themselves – how can they teach it?

The advent of in-classroom computer science platforms solves that problem by providing ready-made curriculum that any educator can lead, regardless of their prior experiences in computer science.

If you find educators who believe in the power of STEM, they can be the advocates to guide students through the curriculum.

The goal of early exposure is to build a solid foundation of computer science skills early in a student’s educational journey and to build confidence in fundamental skills and core concepts.

Instill a Growth Mindset

Harvard Business Review explains the difference between two types of mindsets – growth and fixed:

According to Harvard Business Review, “Individuals who believe their talents can be developed (through hard work, good strategies, and input from others) have a growth mindset. They tend to achieve more than those with a more fixed mindset (those who believe their talents are innate gifts).”

For educators teaching STEM, it is important that they provide positive reinforcement related to the effort of the student, even if the end result does not achieve the desired outcome. When students believe they can get better through effort, they have a growth mindset. If they believe they have a built-in set of skills and are simply “not good at computer science because I keep getting it wrong,” they have a fixed mindset and will shy away from increasing levels of difficulty.

A progressive computer science platform encourages students to have a growth mindset – exposing them to “successful failure” – where you learn from what isn’t working and apply it the next time around. With a progression of skills, students can develop an interest in tackling harder challenges as their education continues, applying computer science concepts to other fields of study.

Establish that Computer Science Is More Than Coding

Computer science is often used synonymously with coding — but coding is only one aspect of computer science and not something that will keep all students engaged if seen as their only path in STEM.

Computer science encompasses additional pillars like digital citizenship and hardware.

To keep students engaged in computer science, they must learn the skills in a variety of ways and gain exposure to the different potential applications of the knowledge gleaned. It is important that educational platforms take all aspects of computer science into account and have a curriculum addressing more than coding:

  • Coding
    The most common way to introduce students to computer science is through coding. Coding engages the visual, hands-on students with project-based learning and computational thinking behind a computer. Students build problem-solving and analytical skills through interactive learning experience with coding projects.

  • Hardware
    Robots, anyone? For the tactile, hands-on learners who do not express robust interest in working in front of a computer screen, the curriculum can include interactive, project-based hardware lessons. This allows students to combine hardware exploration with computational thinking strategies to reinforce computer science principles – reaching students who might have opted out otherwise.

  • Unplugged
    Computer science is everywhere and its principles can be applied to engaging offline games and activities. Encouraging students to look for and practice foundational computer science skills through creative activities reinforces these foundational principals.

    For example, most computer users are familiar with compressed formats such as zip or gif images, which are based on a method called Ziv-Lempel coding (finding patterns in text.) Pull out a book of children’s nursery rhymes, which often involve repeated words and sequences, and examine them to find examples of patterns in text – just like text compression.

  • Digital Citizenship
    With students growing up as digital natives, it is important that they understand how to be safe and proactive digital citizens. By teaching digital citizenship as part of a STEM curriculum, students receive foundational skills needed to safely navigate technology in their daily lives. Topics like cyber ethics and cyber security can bring an informed and ethical background into the future of computer science and technology.

When educators, employers and government officials come together on initiatives to close the tech skills gap, everyone wins. Tech platforms and programs that address the tech skills gap at every age, gender, and the socioeconomic level will be the key to making progress, helping shape the future of the world’s innovation curve.

Author: Christine McDonnell is the CEO of Codelicious.com

Spreading Innovation in Your District’s Computer Science Program

Barbara Kurshan (Innovation Advisor at the University of Pennsylvania) believes that education could use a redesign. She recently published an article in Forbes titled The Work Of Ecosystem Enablers: Spreading Innovation In K12 Education. In it, she outlines the suggested qualities of an educational experience that enables students to thrive in our global world.

While Barbara focuses on education overall, her article features powerful insights that apply especially to computer science. Christine McDonnell, CEO and Co-Founder of Codelicious, sat down to discuss some of the themes of the article and how they apply to computer science programs nationwide.

Each question below offers some background, so no need to read the full article before reading this post!

Question 1 - The article says that schools need to create efficiencies to enable all schools (not just those with large budgets or dedicated teachers) to innovate. What are some of the challenges in creating efficiencies in computer science education today, and how can we address them?

We’ve spoken with many elementary and middle schools, and two recurring challenges we hear about are educator turnover and standards-compliance. First, many schools do not have the budget to hire a dedicated computer science teacher. “We have been in situations where a school was ready to teach computer science, but for a multitude of reasons find themselves without a teacher,” Christine McDonnell says. “Our curriculum is transportable across grades, so whether you have teacher turnover or need a substitute teacher for the classroom, there is an opportunity to drive efficiencies by leveraging curriculum that already exists.”

Second, many computer science activities are random and episodic; it is difficult to find a computer science curriculum that drives toward adopted state and national standards. As a result, administrators struggle to standardize the student experience across schools in their district. That is why the Codelicious Curriculum is written with standards in mind. “Why should every educator have to reinvent the wheel in a particular school or district to deliver student outcomes?” Christine says. “Codelicious creates efficiencies by providing a common set of lesson plans that drive toward standards but also establish commonality in curriculum across an entire district.”

Find out more how the Codelicious Curriculum addresses these two efficiency challenges.

Question 2 - According to the 8 Great Leaps, technology should be “embedded into the heart of learning and relationship-building.'' How can schools use technology to build relationships, both in the classroom and in the community?

Technology is at the heart of computer science education. In the classroom, educators can teach project-based computer science lessons that encourage communication and collaboration. Codelicious helps to foster this type of relationship building. “Codelicious is an interactive computer science curriculum that is taught by an educator, but facilitates student-centered learning,” Christine explains. Educators empower students to take charge of their own learning experience, which builds mutual trust and respect.

Furthermore, the Codelicious Curriculum includes Unplugged activities that help students learn about various STEM careers. These discussions connect students with opportunities in the community, exposing them to careers they could explore in the future.

Question 3 - The article mentions that schools tend to adopt and adapt the practices of other local schools. How have you seen this play out in Computer Science?    

Schools with computer science programs are charting new territory. We’ve seen many schools piloting new computer science programs so they are ready to scale their offerings in the next 12-18 months as adopted state standards come into effect. 

Even if state standards are on the distant horizon, schools and districts starting now are at an advantage. They have a period of trial and error, and they are able to customize a program that will best fit their individual needs. Once computer science standards do go into effect, however, schools that have not yet implemented CS programs can adopt and adapt elements of existing curriculum. “When we see schools and districts find success with a model, it builds confidence for schools and districts around them,” Christine says.  

Question 4 - The article makes the distinction between "scaling" (like the old industrial business model) vs. "spreading" (which offers flexibility and adaptation). What do you think of this distinction? 

“The thing I like about ‘spreading’ is that every school navigates computer science implementation differently,” Christine says. It implies the understanding that each school and district is unique; there is no one-size-fits-all solution in computer science education. For example, each school may structure their day differently. One teacher could have a 90 minute computer science block every other day, while another teaches computer science for 20 minutes every day. This greatly affects the type and amount of material a teacher can cover. The spreading of computer science curriculum allows educators and administrators to make decisions that are best for their districts. 

Question 5 - The article recommends the mass-adoption of “model components”, which are cost-effective, streamlined, and efficient lesson plans. These components can then be adapted for each school’s needs. How does Codelicious exemplify the qualities of a model component?

Codelicious is a cost-effective solution because schools receive only the materials that achieve their goals. There are no extra resources to organize; educators only get the materials they will use.   

Next, Codelicious is streamlined because the curriculum reduces friction for accelerating computer science into the classroom. “An educator has everything they need, from lesson plans, to project files, to printable worksheets, discussion topics, and formative assessments,” Christine lists. “We create a comprehensive environment for delivering this curriculum.”

Finally, Codelicious is efficient because it is aligned with adopted state and CSTA standards. The curriculum also cross-walks with many other core subjects, like math, English, science, and social studies. Teachers do not need time for additional lesson-planning. The Codelicious Curriculum seamlessly fits into any existing time in the school day.  

Want to get a feel for the model components of the Codelicious Curriculum? Download a free coding lesson.

Conclusion

Currently, there is a lot of opportunity to advance computer science education. Schools can take steps to create more efficiencies around educator turnover and standards-compliance. Educators and students can partner to create lasting relationships through project-based activities and community outreach. At a district level, administrators can work together to adapt existing pieces of curriculum as states continue to implement computer science standards. The takeaway is we are all learning together. As we grow into this new ecosystem of education, there is a lot to be excited about.

How to Incorporate Student-Centered Learning In Your Classroom

How to Incorporate Student-Centered Learning In Your Classroom

A study by Gallup shows that student engagement decreases as students move further into their academic journey (Duffy, 2013). Why is that? Many reasons are cited, including emphasis on standardized testing, lack of connection between school and the real world, and lack of engagement with students’ learning styles (Busteed, 2013). How can educators and administrators work to close this gap, creating a lasting, enjoyable learning experience? Student-centered learning is one possible solution to this problem.

What Google’s “Trends in the State of Computer Science in U.S. K-12 Schools” Report Means for Your School

What Google’s “Trends in the State of Computer Science in U.S. K-12 Schools” Report Means for Your School

In 2016, Google partnered with Gallup, a data analytics organization, to understand perceptions of and access to computer science curriculum in grades K - 12. Gallup conducted interviews with superintendents, principals, parents, and students across the United States. The study defines computer science (CS) as “the study of how computers are designed and how to write step-by-step instructions to get them to do what you want them to do”, focusing on the overall value, demand, and opportunities for computer science in schools (Google and Gallup, 2016). You can read the entire study here. This blog post focuses on key findings and takeaways from this report, as well as what they mean for your school.

Top 3 Ways You Can Use Computer Science as a Competitive Advantage

Top 3 Ways You Can Use Computer Science as a Competitive Advantage

Is your school considering implementing a computer science curriculum?

For an increasing number of schools across the United States, adding one or more computer science courses is going to be mandated by the state or local government. But that isn’t the only reason to add computer science.

Although it’s not something you may have considered, having a computer science curriculum in your school could be a HUGE competitive advantage for your students, your schools, and your community.

Let’s look at all of the ways computer science could up your ability to compete on each of these levels.

Advantages computer science creates for your STUDENTS

One of the most obvious advantages may be the benefit of your students developing and improving new skills that they can use to build upon for years to come. These skills will continue to open doors for their students, both with the problem solving and analytic skills they develop, and by the greater sense of confidence gained through learning new skills and overcoming challenges.

Advantages computer science creates for your SCHOOL

Your students aren’t the only beneficiaries of the new computer science curriculum… it’s also a significant benefit to your school. For one, as your students build new skills, and achieve new things, you’ll be building confidence in both them and their PARENTS. Preparing students for 21st-century workforce skills creates a sense of excitement, confidence, and of course, nothing will help your school attract greater enrollment like strong word-of-mouth marketing from your parents.

Advantages computer science creates for your COMMUNITY

Anything that’s beneficial to schools, students, and parents will be incredibly beneficial to your COMMUNITY. As your school builds a comprehensive computer science program, you’ll be developing talent in your classrooms—students and teachers alike. Building this pipeline of talent will help increase the skills base and create a distinct advantage for the workforce needs of your community.


If would like to learn more about the many competitive advantages of implementing a computer science program in your school, contact Codelicious today.

We are also hosting a webinar on February 25th that digs deeper into utilizing computer science as a competitive advantage.

Attend our Upcoming Webinar

3 timesaving tips for launching computer science curriculum in elementary and middle schools

Teaching computer science in the classroom has been a discussion point in education for a while.  In 2014, Hadi Patrovi, Code.org co-founder, gave a TEDx talk emphasizing the importance of it: “Now Computer Science, of course, is about technology,” he said, “but the reason we should be teaching it to our students is because actually, computer science is broader than that. It’s about logic, problem-solving, and creativity.”

Are you considering integrating a computer science program into your elementary or middle school? Are your students or parents asking for opportunities to build these skills during the school day, so they do not have to rely on summer camps and after-school programs? Are you asking yourself where you will find the capacity to launch a successful computer science program?

After many discussions with administrators, educators, and curriculum developers, we have gleaned these three key insights for launching a successful computer science program in elementary and middle schools.

Define the vision for your computer science offering.  

Computer science is all about problem solving and analytics. These skills can be developed through coding curriculum, hardware curriculum, engineering curriculum, and many different interest generating modules. A key factor for success requires the definition of a vision for your computer science offering:

  • What grades will your computer science curriculum span?

  • What skills will your computer science curriculum develop?

  • Will you offer full-semester, foundational skills-building courses? Or will you offer, episodic, interest-generating modules?

  • Will the computer science course be a mandatory part of the instructional day, or will it be offered as an elective?

  • How will you excite students to continue developing computer science skills as they advance towards high school?

Identify a passionate educator, no matter their computer science background. 

Did I mention that computer science is all about problem-solving and analytics? It does not require a PhD or a Master’s degree. An English educator who can construct, edit, and finalize a well-written essay will be able to follow the same analytics to develop computer science skills in students. A history educator who can explain and dissect patterns in history will be able to leverage the same analytical thought processes to develop computer science skills in students. The key skills for a successful computer science educator include:

  • An educator passionate about problem-solving; this will inspire perseverance in students

  • An educator used to prepping for classes the evening before will be able to master the computer science concepts being taught the next day

  • An educator who can relate computer science skills to everyday opportunities will be able to inspire curiosity in students.

Provide resources to support the educator so they can spend more time teaching.

As with any new initiative, educator support is critical to a successful launch. Whether it be professional development, instructional support, troubleshooting support, or a network of educators forging the same road, confidence builds success. If you would not expect your educator to learn math online, why would you expect him/her to learn computer science online?

  • Provide access to interactive professional development sessions and support resources

  • Align the support resources with your vision:

  1. If you want to offer interest-generating modules, provide access to those resources.

  2. If you want to offer full-semester, foundational skills-building courses, provide access to those resources.

Integrating a new course in the already busy school day is a challenge.  However, when broken down into smaller decisions, the solution comes within reach.  What is your vision for bringing computer science curriculum into the school day? Do you know an educator passionate about building these skills in students?  Whatever your vision, know that there are resources available to accelerate educator confidence in teaching computer science.

If you are looking for full-semester, comprehensive Skills-building, interactive computer science curriculum for grades 3-8 that any educator can teach, check out the Codelicious product offering.