Computer Science: It’s More than the Oregon Trail

Computer science. What is it? For me, as a child of the 90s, computer science was learning how to use the Microsoft Office suite and knowing how to keep my digital family alive on the Oregon Trail. More recently, however, computer science has become so much more than preventing virtual dysentery. Students who take computer science classes definitely learn how to code and program. In addition to developing a new skill set, they also learn new problem solving processes. First do this. Then do that. If that doesn’t work, then what are the next steps to solve it? This process teaches students how to create a stronger product from their failures.

 

Today, computer science is integrated into all kinds of different subjects in our schools’ curriculum. Students use computer science to create beautiful music by recording the sound waves of neighboring wildlife. They use 3D printers to replicate and create 3D designs of architecture. The possibilities are endless.

 

Computer science skills are becoming more important in our increasingly tech-reliant world. Greg Bianchi, a Bellevue Schools STEM curriculum developer who worked on the development, progression, and implementation of the Washington State Computer Science Standards states, “when we talk about STEM we talk about a STEM gap, but the biggest contributor to this gap is computer science. Almost every job in the future is going to have some degree of computer science integrated with it.”

 

That’s where Washington STEM, where I’m interning, steps in. Washington STEM works with state and private partners to raise funds for computer science education and directs those funds to places that will make the most impact – especially for girls, kids of color, and rural students. Washington STEM also finds and shares teaching resources through an established set of statewide networks. Greg Bianchi adds, “Washington STEM helps us reach students in classrooms much more quickly by establishing networks across the state, which is pretty major.”

 

Computer science can also be applied to the arts. Greg has seen kids create interactive sculptures in their visual arts classes that teach the subject of energy transformation. Computer science can also be integrated into Theater Studies, where students have the ability to create 3D models of stage set-ups. Lighting/light engineering and audio engineering both use computer science. Universities across the nation are seeing this kind of potential and have begun offering programs that combine computer science with the humanities.

 

Computer science education can also become regionally specific, allowing students to explore career possibilities in their communities. In rural areas of Washington, for example, lesson plans can focus on the apple industry. Students will learn that operating machinery for the apple industry no longer requires just knowing how to operate it, but how to program and maintain it as well.

 

The Oregon Trail was fun when I was seven and knowing the basics of the Microsoft Office suite has equipped me with Power Point prowess. But I’m glad students today have a more sophisticated model of computer science as a part of their foundation. Washington STEM is working to make sure all students have access to those opportunities. As Greg Bianchi summarizes, “we are in the midst of a time period where computer science is becoming a core skill, and it needs to be taught and available to all kids.”

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