Back To The Classroom - Are Teachers Ready?
Written by Sue Gee   
Wednesday, 05 September 2018

As children return to school after the summer break, parents are increasingly convinced that Computer Science is something that should be on the curriculum. But are teachers ready to include it?

The Microsoft Education blog has published the results of an online survey conducted in the United States last month by You Gov. Microsoft wanted to understand how parents felt about technology in the classroom and how they rated of the importance of learning digital skills. The total sample size was 3927 adults, of which 1011 were parents of children under 19 and to report the results included in the infographic the figures were weighted to be representative of all US adult:

 

classroomms

Source: Microsoft Education Blog

One interesting finding highlighted in the blog post by Microsoft Education Leader, Mark Sparvell is:

parents felt differently about tech depending on where it’s being used. When asked about tech use between home and school, 63 percent of parents cited concerns about their kids spending too much time on devices at home, while 86 percent of parents believed tech in school – including computers and educational software – would be helpful to their child’s education.

According to widely quoted US Bureau of Labor Statistics, 52 percent of job growth by the year 2020 will be in the fields of computing and mathematics, which Microsoft argues leads to the great importance in teaching Computer Science and digital skills in classrooms today. 

Opinion among those surveyed is split as to whether technology will lead to more or fewer jobs with more people imagining a future with fewer jobs (37%) than with extra jobs created (23%). The largest proportion (40%) is, however, missing and we don't know from the graphic how this is split between don't know and no change envisaged.

On the whole, though, there is optimism about the impact of technology with 60% hopeful about the role of technology on the lives of their children compared to 30% being unsure or scared. The survey also found that 50% of parents believed coding  to be the most beneficial subject to their child’s future employability, compared to foreign language skills at 28% and cursive handwriting at 14%.

Two-thirds of those surveyed would like to see increased federal government support to help schools build digital skills and even more, 75% wanted the help of big tech companies.

It may be that popular opinion isn't abreast of all the government initiatives there have been over recent years at both federal and state level as there has been impressive progress as noted in my report Code.org Five Years On. A clue as to why there has been progress is in that title - the formation of Code.org with its, initially US-centric, mission of ensuring "Every student in school should have the opportunity to learn to code". As a lobbying organization Code.org has changed mindsets and, working with partners such as College Board, it has developed resources which are finding their way into classrooms. Celebrating the fifth anniversary, Code.org's founder Hadi Partovi acknowledged donors including Amazon, Facebook, Google, Infosys, and Microsoft.

Microsoft and Google have done more than make donations. Google launched its CS EDU site in April 2016 bringing together new and existing resources, including CS First, a free, easy to use computer science curriculum and information about the professional development grants it offers. Last October, when the Grow with Google initiative was launched, Sundar Pichai announced that Google is distributing $1 billion to nonprofits in education and professional training, some of which is for the K-12 sector. 

Microsoft has also been doing a lot, and for a long time, to promote Computer Science and technology in schools. Microsoft Philanthropies supports TEALS (Technology Education and Literacy in Schools), a program that was started in 2009 by Microsoft engineer Kevin Wang that pairs high schools with software engineers who serve as part-time computer science teachers and has brought Computer Science to schools that lacked the necessary expertise.

Microsoft recognizes that the lack of teachers willing and able to bring CS and technology into the classroom is a really big barrier to giving every student the opportunity to code. The Microsoft Education site is part of its initiative to removing the hurdle and encourages teachers to become Microsoft Innovative Educators with digital badges, points and certificates.

mscertmie

The site also provides courses. Some of these are product-based, showing how to use tools like Microsoft OneNote and Office Mix, while others are designed to help teachers integrate technology into their instruction. One such course was advocated by Mark Sparvell in his blog post for teachers who are starting to explore the potential of Computer Science in their classroom.

Step up to Computer Science is an hour-long course and worth 500 points, half of the number required to gain the MIE badge. It is designed to provide ideas and strategies for bringing CS concepts into the classroom. According to its blurb:

This course covers topics for educators looking to start a computer science program in their school, are curious how other educators run their computer science program, or would like to integrate computer science skills into other subjects.

It is split into nine video segments, each around 3-4 minutes. In the first Beth Dudycha and Melanie Kong, both Microsoft Initiative Educators, explain why it is important to study computer science and make a distinction between computer literacy and computer science drawing an analogy with driving a car and being able to design a car. The second module is called Computer science terms to know. This was particularly disappointing in that only one term was introduced. There are more terms in the OneNote notebook provided. The next two videos discuss some practicalities of creating a computer science class for younger and older students. Module 5 looks at  options and tips for running a successful computer science fair and the next one is about showcasing the work of elementary school students. The final three modules are about collaboration across disciplines at elementary, middle and higher grades respectively. There is a 14-question quiz at the end of the course - and if you have been paying attention you'll gain the necessary 80% without knowing anything at all about computer science.

OK this is an introductory course, presumably intended not to frighten technophobes. But it is a lamentable indictment of low expectations we have of teachers regarding anything to do with computers, computational thinking and computer science when they could be so beneficial in schools.

 

More Information

What parents think about technology in the classroom

 

Related Articles

Obama Unveils Computer Science for All

Computer Science Officially US STEM Subject

 

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Last Updated ( Wednesday, 05 September 2018 )