Small-district superintendent, big-deal award
A small-district Iowa superintendent has joined some big-city colleagues as being a cutting-edge leader in offering her students computer science classes.
Barb Schwamman, who leads the Osage Community Schools in north central Iowa, received the Administrator Impact Award from the Computer Science Teachers’ Association in Chicago. Schwamman joins the ranks of administrators from the likes of Los Angeles and West Hartford, Conn., who were honored in years past.
When Schwamman first learned of the award, she initially didn’t believe it.
“I was like, ‘is this real?'” she said. “Even now it doesn’t seem real. There’s no one else representing Iowa or, for that matter, small districts.”
Disbelief in the award yields way to what the district is doing in computer science – which is a lot. The district trained all its educators so that they were computer literate. Then, the district created a computer science pathway in which students can take up to five computer classes before graduating from high school. One class, taught to freshmen, is mandatory.
Computer science ties in well with 21st century skills, teaching what Schwamman calls the “four C’s”: collaboration, critical thinking, creativity and communication.
“For us, our students are very engaged, they are doing hands-on work,” she said. “They see the connections and the relevance to the real world.”
The computer science courses have taken off.
“We’ve grown from a handful of kids taking the courses to over 100 today,” Schwamman said.
Computer science teaches a skill set that’s not going to go away.
“It teaches problem solving, collaboration, coding,” she said. “It creates problem solvers, people who work on teams and engage in creative thinking.”
Computer science lays out a foundation for jobs today and in the ever-changing future, said Wren Hoffman, a consultant at the Iowa Department of Education.
“Computer science gives every student the problem-solving skills that we all need to function in the world that we live in now, and that’s where the jobs will be coming down the road,” Hoffman said. “With jobs in the past, it was do A, B, C and you’re done. Now jobs are about figuring out what the path is, and if something goes wrong, figuring out what the next steps are.”
A strong computer science program gives students a solid taste of a field in which jobs are good paying and plentiful.
“I know there are something like 3,500 jobs open in the state that require computer science,” Schwamman said. “Now I call that job security.”
Iowa Department of Education Consultant Wren Hoffman, a former computer science teacher, said all students – including grade schoolers – can develop skills in computer science. Here’s an example of computational thinking, in which students can break down a simple task, look for patterns within, and see algorithms.
“What does this look like in the real world? Take something that seems simple and straightforward, like making a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. It is automatic – put peanut butter on the bread and then put jelly on the bread.
“There is actually a lot more to it. When you break the problem down and think about everything that goes into it, the steps look more like this: take the lid off the peanut butter, pick up the knife, stick the knife in the peanut butter, scoop up the peanut butter, pull the knife out, spread the peanut butter on the bread, and so on.
“But I can still ask questions and break it down it even further. What is the true list of ingredients and tools I need? Which end of the knife do I grab? How many times do I repeat the process of getting peanut butter out of the jar onto the bread?”