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Computer science teachers gain strength, connections through trainings

Date: Wednesday, December 7, 2022

Iowa teachers have a lot to celebrate this year for Computer Science Education Week. The past several months have been a whirlwind of activity as Iowa school districts work to implement the state’s new requirements on offering high-quality computer science classes for K-12. Computer science teachers have been on the front lines of this implementation and have found a network of strength and support through computer science professional development opportunities.

Stephen Malone

Several teachers, like Norwalk Community High School’s Stephen Malone, are new to computer science or are looking for a fresh way to engage students and their curriculums, and many have found great insight during computer science training events.

“I initially took on computer science to help fill in gaps at the high school,” he said. “I’m pleasantly surprised how engaging it is. I am excited to continue to learn more about it and strengthen my skills and understanding through professional development opportunities.”

Supported through the Iowa Department of Education’s computer science professional development grant opportunities and funding from the Computer Science Teachers Association, computer science teachers have been able to take part in no-cost, intensive week-long trainings and other workshops with vendors like Code.org and BootUp. These trainings provide teachers with varying levels of experience an opportunity to learn more about how to approach computer science, how to set up their curriculums in an ever-changing world and how to engage students through technology.

Malone, a second-year educator in career and technical education (CTE) for business, marketing and computer science, has attended a few workshops, including a five-day course with Code.org on computer science discovery. As a result, he has not only increased his competencies in computer science but also his community of support.

“One of the best parts of the workshop was to see how other teachers approached the curriculum,” Malone said. “It was great to meet other computer science teachers and create a network where we can re-engage with each other.”

Robin West

Malone’s colleague at Norwalk, Robin West, agrees that collaboration with other computer science teachers across Iowa has been one the major benefits of professional development.

“A lot of computer science teachers are singletons,” she said. “It’s tough to collaborate and learn when you may be the only computer science teacher within the school district. Being around other computer science teachers is helpful to see what areas they emphasize or how they deliver the curriculum to students.”

West has been a computer science educator since 2014 but notes that a continued commitment to professional development is a must to help meet the needs of today’s students.

“Professional development helps not only teachers but also our students,” she said. “It allows us to adjust our instruction and approach to concepts in order to better support students' level of understanding.”

Sabrina Edsen

Adjusting the methodology for computer science is important for all classes but is especially vital for younger students at the elementary level. For third grade teacher Sabrina Edsen, her professional development opportunity with BootUp helped her gain new ideas on how her school at Lynnville-Sully Elementary can best introduce and implement high-quality computer science in their classes.

“I enjoyed learning about how you can integrate computer science in daily subjects like reading, literacy and math,” she said. “We do not have a separate time solely for computer science, so seeing an integration model was helpful.”

Edsen, who is Lynnville-Sully’s technology integration educator for Pre-K-3, has not only shared the information learned on integration with her school’s staff but also with teachers and professionals outside of the district.

“I presented how to integrate computer science into an elementary classroom at the annual Iowa Technology and Education Connection Conference,” she said. “I want others to know that computer science at the elementary level is doable. Kids are engaged because it often looks different, like a game.”

As computer science continues to evolve and grow, so will the need for high-quality education and professional development. Many professional development opportunities for computer science occur during Computer Science Professional Development Week each June, and state officials are seeing a huge demand for these trainings.

“For 2022’s Computer Science Professional Development Week, we took over an entire college campus and had over 400 participants,” said Justin Lewis, computer science consultant for the Iowa Department of Education. “We are looking to more than double that amount in 2023.”

The 2023 Computer Science Professional Development Week is scheduled for June 12-16 at the University of Northern Iowa in Cedar Falls. Any computer science educator who is interested in attending is invited to complete the interest survey that will help shape the events for the week.

Since computer science is interconnected with many of the aspects of our daily lives, the strong emphasis on having well-trained personnel is important for Iowa’s students and their understanding and use of technology.

“As adults, we may assume that kids just understand how technology works, but that’s not true,” West said. “It’s important that we are well-equipped to provide education on computer science to show them how the internet works, how to stay safe online and to protect their information, how to become a creator of technology and what careers are possible.”

For more details on Computer Science Education Week and the upcoming Computer Science Professional Development Week, contact Justin Lewis at justin.lewis@iowa.gov.