Thursday, September 28, 2017

Fear and Loathing and Required Computer Science Education

It seems like every time someone suggests that computer science be a required school subject someone (sometimes several people) bring up on particular objection – that making a subject required makes I a turn off for students. The problem is stated several ways. For example

  • Requiring CS would result in students with unenthusiastic or unprepared teachers
  • Required CS courses would have to be watered down courses
  • Required CS courses force the wrong kind of motivation (extrinsic rather than intrinsic)

While those are all valid concerns are they enough to prevent us from requiring CS? They are apparently not enough to keep us from requiring Math, English, Science, and (in many places) World Languages.

A question that needs to be asked as well is, if students are never exposed to computer science how will they become excited by it? I’m sure we all know someone who got excited about writing from a required English course. Or a math wiz who didn’t know they loved math until that one inspired teacher of a required course got them interested. And the same for just about any subject.

Are we going to turn off some students though poor teaching? Perhaps but that is no more a fear for CS than any other subject. We’re even more likely to excite more students if more students take CS though. Sure the idea of requiring CS is scary to some and the fears must be addressed. But we’re never going to achieve computer science knowledge for everyone if we limit CS courses to people who already know they want to learn it.


Garth said...

Two semesters of CS is required to graduate in my school. Private schools lead the way.

Tami Brass said...

We had similar concerns voiced at my school, so we decided to integrate projects/units each year in science, beginning in kindergarten through 8th grade. In 6th and 7th grade, students have a required trimester rotation of computer science as well. By the end of middle school, our goal is that students would have a solid foundation to take high school level electives. We're seeing above representative diversity (gender, economic, racial) in the high school electives, so requiring it certainly doesn't turn kids off. If anything, it increases confidence and interest. This approach is similar to how many schools teach art and music. They're valuable areas to develop and build confidence/understanding. If you catch all kids, ideally early, most of the barriers go away.

Also a private school, by the way...