According to code.org, while 90% of parents want their child to study computer science, only 35% of high schools actually teach it. Episcopal not only teaches computer science in Upper School, but also in Lower and Middle School.
As early as PreK-3, Episcopal students are exposed to computers and coding in age-appropriate lessons. For example, during Computer Science Education Week (December 3rd – 9th), Lower School students participated in a holiday-themed activity using Ozobots. Academic Technology Coordinator Betsy Minton says the bot is ideal for younger students because it can be used without a screen and it only requires a student to use colors to guide it along.
“We try to embed computer science and coding into our curriculum as much as possible in the Lower School, especially with their projects,” says Minton. She says as students progress in their educational journey, the opportunities for computer science learning also advance. “Students in fourth and fifth grade are taught more systematically through science and enrichment and eighth graders in integrated science classes learn coding,” she says. In addition, there are numerous opportunities for students to participate in robotics in Middle and Upper School. There are even opportunities specifically for female students through the Girls Who Code group who meets twice a month.
Episcopal Upper School students also have the opportunity to take AP Computer Science Principles. According to the College Board, the course focuses on the fundamentals of computing, including problem solving, working with data, understanding the internet, cybersecurity and programming. Such a course is not just for future computer programmers. The College Board lists 130 career areas and 48 college majors that may be of interest to students who take the class. These careers range from computer and information systems managers to food scientists and craft artists.
Episcopal Upper School teacher Dr. Jeff McLean teaches two sessions of the course. He says the course content is “very approachable” for students with varying degrees of computer knowledge and previous coding experience is not required. Over the course of the year, students learn about everything from binary messages and file types to the internet and encryption. The curriculum includes highlights from well-known computer gurus like Bill Gates and celebrity appearances from musicians and athletes discussing the relevance of computers in all aspects of modern life. While Dr. McLean says he realizes that not all of the 28 students taking the course will go on to pursue a degree in computer science, the course still has tremendous value. “It opens up a whole new set of tools for them,” he says.
Dr. McLean says lessons learned from the course will empower students to be creators of technology rather than simply users of technology. This process is already underway, as students become more comfortable with computer concepts and less intimidated by the topic. Ultimately, students will create their own application, which Dr. McLean says will serve as a tangible takeaway from the class that can be shared with others.
Embracing computer science and technology means more than career and salary potential. Recently, Minton spoke to Lower School students in Morning Meeting regarding the connection between computers and peace. She shared with students that people in the world are using computer capabilities to make positive changes. For example, a middle school student in Los Angeles, California created the award winning Sit With Us app after experiencing bullying in her own life. The app connects students with each other in the hope that no one eats lunch alone. Minton also told students about how UNICEF embraced the kindness of young people and their everyday activity to provide meals and resources to children in need. Students with smart devices can download an app that tracks their movement and activities and as they earn activity points, UNICEF donates food to others.
Today’s 17 year olds were born the same year that the Xbox and iPod were introduced to the world. In 2001, Windows XP, iTunes and XM Radio were also released. Computers have been a part of students’ lives from the very beginning. By learning how to harness the power and capabilities of such technology, students will be better prepared for a world of continued technological advancements.
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