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November 30, 2017

Computer Science Education Week 2017: Cracking the Code for a Brighter Tomorrow

Contributed by Meghan Sullivan

What do Amazon, Google and Netflix have in common?

If you said that these three companies are technology giants providing people with digital platforms that have become embedded in our daily lives, you’d certainly be right. But beyond where these companies are today, they also share remarkably similar beginnings — each of these three giants was founded and led by a person with a penchant for computer science.

Amazon’s Jeff Bezos, Google’s Sergey Brin and Larry Page, and Netflix’s Reed Hastings all studied computer science in college, and their studies have contributed to a monumental societal shift. At its core, computer science is a field built around change and developing ways to benefit society, and its study provides an interesting avenue for STEM-oriented people to make their mark on the world.

Education lies at the very center of this technological growth and the non-profit Code.org, an organization committed to promoting computer science as a core curriculum subject, holds an annual Computer Science Education Week (CSEdWeek) to celebrate the field’s importance. It’s held each year during the week of the computer scientist Grace Hopper’s birthday, which this year falls on the week of Dec. 4.

The main aim of CSEdWeek is to spark students’ interest in computer science. With this goal in mind, Code.org encourages students, educators, and organizations at large to host an “Hour of Code” as an introduction to computer programming. During the Hour of Code, new coders across the country take part in interactive coding games that involve activities like designing a unique Google logo or creating a new rendition of the Flappy Bird app. Code.org provides a library of coding tutorials that include these games and many, many more with activities suitable for all ages and experience levels.

Many prominent organizations host their own Hour of Code events and noteworthy corporations like Apple, along with prominent figures like President Obama, have taken part in Hour of Code in the past. To take make hosting your own Hour of Code both exciting and a breeze, Code.org offers a step-by-step guide on hosting.

However, the true goal of Code.org and CSEdWeek is to instill in its coders a new passion for computer science, and they provide a variety of resources for extending the spirit of CSEdWeek throughout the year. One such resource is their webpage for educators, which lists courses, videos, and curriculum materials that can be implemented in classrooms year-round. There are also other websites and apps that teach coding by allowing students to actually create their own game or product: Kodable, Hopscotch, and Scratch, just to name a few.

Such year-round education in the K-12 setting is pivotal in strengthening the computer science field, as well as preparing the students of today for the jobs of tomorrow. Based on data curated by Code.org, 71 percent of new STEM careers are rooted in computing but only 8 percent of STEM graduates have pursued degrees in computer science. This discrepancy can be traced back to K-12 schools where the computer science education offered does not meet both students’ and parents’ demand for such education.

Of course, schools often struggle to meet that demand because of the exacting cost that computer science education done right requires. Teaching computer skills requires a variety of hardware, equipment, and software that schools may not be able to afford. Even with the plethora of free online resources now available, designed for schools that may be struggling to afford more traditional packaged curriculums, lack of technology limits access to these avenues entirely.

Despite these setbacks, schools and teachers who simply take the time to celebrate events like CSEdWeek and Hour of Code are already making the crucial first step in exposing and preparing their students for a rapidly expanding professional field. Such involvement not only builds students’ technical skills but also develops their ingenuity, creativity, and problem-solving abilities, making participation in CSEdWeek beneficial for students at any age.

A career in computer science is not simply a career in coding. It’s becoming part of a sector that’s driving 21st century life forward, fundamental to our society’s growth. With this in mind, encouraging student interest in computer science education helps to write a collective code for a brighter future for all.

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