Why Computer Science?

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Code.org COO Cameron Wilson talks about Computer Science. Courtesy Photo

When you are in a room with people all passionate about the same thing, it’s energizing. That’s exactly what happened at the Code.org Regional Partner Summit in San Antonio last week. In our case, what we are passionate about is computer science education.

As the Code.org regional partner in New Hampshire, the University of New Hampshire STEM Teachers’ Collaborative and the STEM Discovery Lab at Manchester work closely with Code.org to expand computer science (CS) education in the state by offering a professional learning program for teachers. There is strong momentum across the country and what motivates the 57 regional partners is simple: making sure students have access to opportunities in computer science.

Laura and Emily with regional partners from Maine. Courtesy Photo

Often, when people think about computer science, they automatically think coding. However, computer science is much more than that. It is about creating and not merely consuming. In a world increasingly concerned about excessive screen time, this is an important distinction. Computer science is about crafting and creating a computer game rather than just playing someone else’s. It’s about making an app to address an important issue. It’s a new way to demonstrate knowledge and to analyze and solve problems. It’s about managing data, thinking logically and understanding the impacts of technology and its responsible use.

Why is this important? In New Hampshire alone, there are over 1,400 open computing related jobs across many different fields, yet there were only approximately 400 computer science graduates last year. The majority of STEM jobs are in computing and computer science plays a role in nearly every sector of industry.

Similar to other regional partners across the country, New Hampshire has worked hard to address this, thanks largely to the work of the NH High Technology Council’s CS4NH advisory group. There has been bipartisan support in the New Hampshire Legislature to move forward with STEM and computer science education, along with work at the state level to develop and implement new policies, including new computer science educator certification and K-12 computer science standards.

But personal stories probably tell it best and there are no shortage of them among the Code.org regional partners. One partner shared a quote from a young woman living in a rural community who often felt “forgotten” and “left out” because of her location. That was before her school offered CS courses. Now she feels hopeful that she can pursue a career in cybersecurity and is excited by the prospect.

Code.org regional partners at March summit. Courtesy Photo

We have our own stories at the STEM Teachers’ Collaborative and the STEM Discovery Lab. Two stand out in Laura’s mind. One is a young man whose grades were all Cs or lower until he took a CS course. He excelled and went on to pursue a certificate that enabled him to find a job he loves. A female student designed her own app to show all the clothes, jewelry, and accessories in a closet and combine them in new ways without trying anything on. This ability to be creative allowed her to thrive and see the intersection between computer science and the fashion industry. In Emily’s case, it’s an English learner who was able to learn and demonstrate understanding of advanced math concepts through coding activities.

Now that we are back from the summit, we are even more energized to continue our work knowing we are among a network of partners across the country pursuing similar goals.

Lab Notes is a regular column by the University of New Hampshire STEM Discovery Lab. Have an idea for a topic? Communicate with us on Facebook and Twitter @UNHSTEMlab.

Laura M. Nickerson is the Director of the STEM Teachers’ Collaborative, a UNH interdisciplinary effort to coordinate and strengthen STEM education, with the primary goal of increasing K-12 teachers’ expertise in computing, engineering and technology, and extending the impact of excellent STEM teachers to more students throughout the state. Laura received a B.S. in Physics from Valparaiso University and an M.S. in Physics from Northern Illinois University. Laura taught for seventeen years in public and private high school classrooms teaching physics, engineering, computer science, astronomy, and other STEM subjects. Prior to coming to UNH, she was a lead teacher in the Teaching Opportunities in the Physical Sciences (TOPS) program at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Coaching a First Robotics Competition (FRC) team spurred Laura’s interest in teaching engineering and coding. She is the mother of twin girls.

In her role as the STEM Discovery Lab Coordinator, Emily supports the collaborative effort between UNH Cooperative Extension and UNH Manchester of the STEM Discovery Lab located on the Manchester campus. Emily was an English as a Second Language and English Language Learner educator for youth and adults in the greater Manchester and Seacoast areas for over 8 years and was the project assistant for the GATE CITY Project (Getting All Teachers ESOL Certified in Two Years) at UNH Manchester from 2012 to 2015. Emily earned her B.A. in international studies from The Ohio State University and her M.Ed. in secondary education from UNH Manchester. She is the mother of two active teenage boys and loves spending time outdoors.