Moving forward with computer science
Dallas Center-Grimes Community School District is not only ready for change, they’re excited for it. So when new requirements for computer science education in Iowa were issued last year, the home of the Mustangs readily pushed forward, looking to make an impact.
Established in House File 2629, Iowa public school districts, like Dallas Center-Grimes, along with accredited nonpublic schools are required to implement a K-12 computer science plan and offer at least a one-half unit high-quality computer science course by July 1. Additionally, elementary (grades 1-6) and middle schools (grades 7-8) must also provide high-quality computer science classes in at least one grade level by July 2023.
For some schools that are just starting to develop and implement their computer science programming, these new requirements can seem overwhelming. But luckily for Dallas Center-Grimes, they already have a solid foundation for computer science education.
“We currently offer three computer science courses, basic, advanced and web development, for high school students,” said Jill Van Woerkom, associate superintendent of school improvement. “We have seen more interest from students and their parents in these classes, and this year, we’ve opened even more sections of computer science.”
Compared to the 2020-21 school year, overall enrollment in these three high school computer science courses increased this year, and significantly, with enrollment in the Basic Computer Science class nearly doubling in size. Even more opportunities in computer science are on the horizon for Dallas Center-Grimes’ high school students.
“One of our teachers will receive their computer science endorsement at the end of the year,” Van Woerkom said. “With the endorsement, we want to offer concurrent enrollment next year for advanced computer science where students can also earn college credit. It’s exciting”
Enthusiasm for new computer science activities is also evident in Dallas Center-Grimes’ plans for the future at their middle and elementary schools. They are focused on integrating computer science in other subjects like math, science, English and social studies and are dedicated to providing real-life scenarios.
“We are always thinking of what things we can do to get students to experience things outside of the school’s walls and hear real-life experiences,” Van Woerkom said. “For example, for fifth and sixth grades, we will have community partners come in and provide examples of how computer science is a part of their daily work.”
Incorporating computer science early is important for Iowa’s future workforce and information technology (IT) industry, and Dallas Center-Grimes is on board.
“It’s important for our students and students across the state to get exposed to computer science early,” said Van Woerkom. “They need to see that it is something that we use every day, in things you don’t even think about. It’s important for kids to understand there are many opportunities in computer science.”
Van Woerkom stresses this last point and states computer science is not just coding in a dark room. It can provide many opportunities, even in areas outside of the field.
“Computer science teaches steps and processes, problem solving and thinking analytically,” she said. “We are prepping students not just for jobs in computer science and IT but getting them ready for their life after high school in general.”
For other schools starting their own computer science journey, Van Woerkom offers sage advice.
“When it comes to the new standards, take it slow,” she said. “Reach out to other schools who can provide guidance and support. This is a marathon, and we’re in it together.”