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Building a pipeline for computer science

Date: Wednesday, June 7, 2023

We’re only a few days out from the 2023 Computer Science Professional Development Week (CS PD Week)! All next week, more than 300 teachers from across the state will be partaking in 30-plus sessions at the University of Northern Iowa campus. Participants of the event will have the chance to hear from peers and computer science professionals on emerging trends and best practices in computer science education. 

Tim Barnes, assistant program manager from the Carnegie Mellon University Computer Science (CMU CS) Academy, is one of the many professionals headed to Iowa to share knowledge on computer science education, specifically on how to approach programming courses. Barnes, himself a veteran computer science educator with 10 years of experience, understands the challenges and excitement that come from teaching in computer science classrooms.

Staff from the Iowa Department of Education had the pleasure of hearing more from Barnes on his upcoming programming sessions and his thoughts on the future of computer science education.

CS PD Week is all about training educators in emerging areas of computer science education as well as celebrating how far we’ve come within our schools. Why do you think it is so important to emphasize computer science education in schools right now?

There are a number of reasons why it’s important to place a major focus on computer science education in schools, especially right now. Emphasizing computer science education in schools is crucial because it promotes digital literacy, prepares students for future careers, drives technological advancement, reduces inequalities, enhances computational thinking skills, fosters innovation and entrepreneurship and contributes to global competitiveness. By equipping students with computer science education, we empower them to thrive in the digital age and contribute to the evolving world around them.

Your two sessions at CS PD Week focus on programming. What are some general tips for educators providing programming classes for their students?

Start by building a pipeline in your district. Introduce students at a young age so they start to understand the logic and process behind programming. The sooner they can grasp those concepts, the more successful they will be overall.

One of the things I find most important, and something I pride our program on CMU CS Academy, is walking that fine line between rigor and engagement. It is harder to keep students engaged now more than ever before. For that reason, rigor tends to decrease to keep the “fun” and “engagement” higher. By implementing visual elements that students can creatively interact with, we see high levels of engagement while keeping it challenging.

Computer science may be a new area of study for some teachers. As a veteran classroom teacher in business and computer technology, what advice do you have for educators who are just getting started in the world of computer science education?

Build that pipeline. A robust computer science education program doesn’t happen overnight. It takes time, effort, buy-in from the community, students and administrators, and hard work on the teacher’s part. Don’t give up when it gets tough or the students get bored. As you learn more about computer science and the students have more exposure, their engagement will increase.

While this may be taboo to say, you will have students who are better at programming than you -- and that is ok. Support them, provide them with the tools they need to be successful but don’t burn yourself out trying to know everything before them or know more than them. Be proud that they are so engaged!

What new things do you foresee in programming and computer science education?

As with all areas of technology, computer science education is evolving at a whirlwind rate. Some of the major areas of evolution are integrations in artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning, a focus on ethical and responsible computing and an emphasis on cybersecurity education. These things are becoming more prevalent by the day, and I think we will see a larger focus on them in the coming years.

Any other thoughts?

If any teachers are interested in their students earning college credit, we now offer a course titled College Programming and Computer Science that gives the students an opportunity to take our final exam for a small fee of $200. If they pass the exam, they receive four transcript credits from Carnegie Mellon University. If anyone would like more information about this, please email me at!

The team at CMU CS Academy and I are looking forward to a great week of professional development in Iowa and can’t wait to get started!