Fifteen K-12 educators graduated in May from a Northwest College program designed to give them the certification needed to teach computer science in the classroom.
In an effort to encourage computer literacy among K-12 students, the Wyoming Legislature passed a bill in 2019 mandating computer science education throughout the state’s school districts.
The Wyoming Department of Education accepted computer science standards in early 2020, and the Wyoming Board of Education approved them in April.
In the meantime, the state’s seven community colleges and the University of Wyoming developed computer science endorsement programs.
“Right now, computer science in the state of Wyoming is not delivered consistently,” said Astrid Northrup, NWC professor of engineering and mathematics.
Northrup and three colleagues — NWC English professor Renee Dechert, NWC math and engineering instructor Raymond Floyd and Andrea Burrows, a professor and associate dean at the University of Wyoming’s College of Education — developed a white paper called “Coding is the New Coal,” which outlined the process for developing a curriculum that would provide an endorsement needed for K-12 educators to teach computer science with consistent standards.
The endorsement program included courses in structured programming, application development, cyber citizenship, and robotics.
Northrup said she was pleasantly surprised by the number of educators who participated in the program. They needed at least nine students to run a class, and the 15 they received was still small enough to give the students the individual attention they’d need.
The cohort included a range of educators from the Big Horn Basin, including teachers, a librarian and substitute teachers from Powell High School, Powell Middle School, Westside Elementary, Cody Middle School, Worland High, Burlington schools and Ten Sleep schools.
They taught a range of subjects, including science, history, agriculture, social studies, business, career and technical education.
Besides the traditional computer science classes, the endorsement program included an application development class, social media class, and robotics course.
The application development class reinforced computational thinking and traditional programming skills.
The social media class explored what being a good cyber citizen means. The participants explored a number of platforms, such as YouTube, Facebook and Tik-Tok. They looked at the “good, bad and the ugly” of each one, Northrup said, and how they could be used positively in the classroom.
“It’s kind of like ethics in the real world,” Northrup explained. “What does it look like to use social media appropriately — not just avoid things that are bad, but to actually engage in platforms and develop citizenship online.”
Completion of the robotics course, which required a lab, had to be delayed until the end of May due to COVID-19. The course was facilitated by former Powell Middle School teacher Zac Opps, who now works for Digital Promise, a nonprofit dedicated to accelerating innovation in education to improve opportunities to learn. The participants used Lego Mindstorm robots to explore how to teach programming and operation of robotics in the classroom.
Part of teaching computer science to Wyoming students is not only preparing them for jobs of the future, but specifically to prepare them for jobs outside Wyoming’s traditional industries, such as coal.
“I think this is a really progressive move, to try to prepare our kids for the world that’s going to exist. And to prepare Wyoming for the next phase” of industry, Northrup said.