After we founded Bio::Neos in 2004 we received a lot of support from the University of Iowa and other organizations in the Iowa City community. Bio::Neos would not exist today without that initial support we had received from others, and as a result, we have made it a core value to engage in any opportunities that we encounter to give back through mentoring, volunteering, and advocating for all of the organizations in our local community. Participating in these community events has led to an involvement with local education initiatives all the way down to the K-12 level. And in part because of this involvement, earlier this year I was asked to participate in the Computer Science Education Work Group which was established by Senate File 274. As this is a subject I have been passionate about for awhile, I jumped at the chance!
We met four times in 2017 to address how to provide Iowa students with computer science education from the time they enter kindergarten through their high school career. The Work Group was made up of legislators, educators, and business owners from across the state. We completed a report that was published on November 1, 2017.
Students can benefit from having a basic understanding of computer science, even if they do not plan to pursue a career where they write software or build hardware. Computer science education teaches skills that are critical in many career fields. Students learn a computational mindset that involves logical troubleshooting and how to decompose problems into smaller parts. This computational mindset gives students a better understanding of complex concepts and the tools to solve tough problems.
Even very young students are able to learn computer science basics and can complete the Hour of Code Challenge. Early success builds confidence and improves the equity of computer science education. Equity in computer science education prevents children who are minorities from self-selecting out of pursuing computer science careers.
By the time students reach high school there is a gap between those with no background in computer science and their peers who took an early interest in the subject and are largely self-taught. Computer science can be taught as complementary coursework but unless it has been specifically designed to do so it cannot replace math or science courses.
Computer science might seem scary for a teacher unfamiliar with the subject but I encourage them to make the leap. Technology evolves quickly and can be taught differently than traditional subjects. It's okay to not have all of the answers and learn alongside your students. Even if you feel that your subject is unrelated, computer science has connections to other subjects. There are resources for teachers who want to further their understanding of computer science. Free training is available throughout the state from organizations like code.org and groups like Project Lead the Way provide further support.
Working with others who understand the importance of exposing Iowa's students to computer science was a great experience. I look forward to taking part in future opportunities to make sure that Iowa's students have access to high quality computer science education. Bio::Neos will continue to work with local school districts and we are excited to be a part of the development of computer science education in Iowa. Please contact us to learn more about the Education Work Group and education opportunities available in Iowa.