Two weeks ago, Dr. Marie desJardins, a professor of computer science at UMBC, posted on myUMBC asking who would be interested in a group for students wanting to become computer science educators. The new group, aptly called Computer Science Education (CS Education), already has 66 members.
CS Education brings together a diverse group of individuals, each interested in the educational aspects of computer science. People from all backgrounds are welcome in CS Education, including “undergraduates who are interested in careers as teachers, graduate students who may become professors one day and faculty and staff who want to work together to improve the quality of CS education at UMBC and elsewhere,” said desJardins.
Their first meeting as an organization is planned for Tuesday, Sept. 24. During the meeting, participants will decide which activities they want to plan and what they would like to do as a group. Each event has two purposes: to create better teachers in the field and to help future students.
Because many state school systems do not require students to take classes related to computer science, desJardins said, “Many students come to college with absolutely no exposure at all.” Then, when potential majors take their first class in the field, they “have no real skill in what we call computational thinking, which is the ability to solve problems by formulating abstract representations of the problems that can be tackled by using algorithms.”
DesJardins likens the situation to a student taking an ENGL 100 class without having ever read a book or written an essay. A student in this situation will most likely struggle with the course and may decide to major in something else.
CS Education looks for ways to give kindergarten through 12th grade students the skills they need to work with today’s technology at more advanced levels when they are in college. There are currently no required classes related to computer science in elementary, middle or high schools in the U.S.
According to desJardins, there is a major national trend to develop curricula for grades K-12 that will “broaden the view of CS and make it more engaging and exciting for students.” The most noticeable example of this is the CS principles course, which is lined up to become a new high school advanced placement course over the next few years.
UMBC recently received funding from the National Science Foundation to be a part of their CS10K effort. This program will train 10,000 teachers across the U.S. to teach CS principles.
In addition to being a part of CS10K, UMBC hosted the CE12 Maryland Seminar for Computing Education last spring. Over 100 teachers, professors, industry professionals and administrators came to UMBC to discuss computer science education in the state of Maryland. The seminar included sessions on student perceptions of the topic, ways to improve existing curriculums, new curricula initiatives including CS Principles, the national picture of computer science education and computer-related job fields in Maryland.