The Parents’ Council/MCPS Kickoff event is held annually to engage and energize advocates and county leadership in conversations focused on equity in education and related topics. The audience will be approximately 350 – 400 people, comprised of County elected officials, Board of Education members, District Superintendent and staff, Principals, NAACP Branch & Parents’ Council Representatives, and MCPS Parents/Guardians. I am speaking on a panel focused on MCPS Technology and STEM. It will address how computer science and technology can be a resource and enabler for both Parents and Students at MCPS; look at STEM career opportunities. Coincidentally I recently got to meet the new president of the NAACP, Cornell William Brooks.
On Tuesday 9/9/2014 I spoke at Fedscoop’s Tech Town Hall to an audience of folks gathered to talk about the nation’s STEM workforce. I gave the usual spiel about how important CS is to the STEM field and how undereducated our nation’s students are. But I tried something new as well. I spent some time talking about the difference between the late 20th century IT worker and the 21st century tech-educated worker. The former uses information technology and learned it by taking a vocational track. The latter creates technology and processes that stem from a foundational understanding of computer science that was experienced through a mainstream education. Read the Fedscoop article.
For years following the dot-com bust, computer science enrollment plunged steadily, prompting hand wringing over America’s competitiveness in technology and innovation. But a nationwide push to bring coding to classrooms, plus rapid innovation in apps and communications, has prompted a 13.4 percent jump in computer science majors in the 2012-13 academic year alone. But retaining those budding programmers — especially females and minorities — remains a significant challenge. Kojo explores local and national efforts to boost computer science competency, and learns how educators are revamping computational learning to give it relevance far beyond the classroom.
I was recently interviewed for a Washington Post article and was asked, “Why is taking computer science so important? What do kids miss out on if they don’t take computer science?” The second question was a version of the first that I hadn’t heard before. I am constantly defending why CS is important, but have never promoted CS from the perspective of what kids will not get. So here is a shot:
In school, kids learn about DNA, political revolutions, solving equations, and writing persuasive essays. But computing drives each of these topics in our 21st century. What do kids miss out on? How to think about their world at the level of the itty bitty bit and how to manipulate this bit using higher level layers of abstraction to mold and transform how they and others can interact with their digital world, and by extension, the natural world and society itself. In essence, they miss out on actively participating in an era when the most powerful technology man has ever known is also one of the most accessible technologies man has ever known. Sure that could be making apps and games, but more so, it is about learning how to view the world and solve problems in a powerful way.
So I thought that was passable. But my friend, Owen Astrachan, a professor at Duke University and co-lead of the CS Principles project, captures it even better:
How is information created, constructed, understood, communicated, and lived with? We live in a world of information — and we learn about this world from the interaction between a physical and an online/virtual world. If a kid doesn’t understand how information is created and communicated — the speed and scale at which this happens, the complexities of software and what it entails — she’ll miss out on how the world we live in today works and how she can affect, cope, and change that world. This isn’t simply about programming, it’s about creating and altering information, about how information moves, about how it changes and is changed by people and society. (Astrachan, 2014)