Computer science training offered for all elementary teachers

School of Mines and state hosting free trainings

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A current job search on employment site Indeed.com shows that currently in Colorado there are nearly 1,000 available jobs in the computer science field.

Of those jobs, 205 of them offer an estimated salary ranging from $105,100 to $120,000.

“Colorado has a gap in computer science education, with as many available jobs as there are,” said Joanna Bruno, director of standards and instructional support for the Colorado Department of Education. “Computer science education has the potential to open doors for students, (and) investment in teachers will increase the opportunities for students.”

To help fill this gap, the Colorado Department of Education and the Colorado School of Mines partnered to offer free, one-day professional development workshops on computer science concepts workshops to every elementary school teacher in the state.

Computational thinking is a valuable skill, no matter what career path a student ultimately pursues, said Tracy Camp, a professor and the department head of Mines’ Computer Science Department.

“Nearly every discipline or career requires computational skills,” she added. The workshops “will help teachers prepare their students for the computational world we live in.”

Called Computer Science-Fundamental Approach to Standards Training (CS-FAST), the workshops’ curriculum will include instruction on coding and hands-on training in CS Unplugged, a collection of free learning activities that help teach computational thinking without the use of a computer, states a press release from Mines.

Teachers will be able to build their capacity of teaching these skills and be able to integrate them into other coursework, Bruno said.

Camp is “looking forward to providing the teachers with engaging and fun activities that they can take directly to their classroom,” she said.

The Colorado Department of Education is contracting with Mines’ Computer Science Department to provide the workshops. In 2017, Colorado’s Computer Science Teacher Education Grant Program was launched. In the 2017-18 academic year, about $400,000 in grant money was awarded to school districts, charter schools and Boards of Cooperative Educational Services across the state to go toward professional development in computer science for K-12 teachers.
 
Realizing the program’s success, Bruno said, the General Assembly, in collaboration with the State Board of Education, appropriated an additional $500,000 in 2018 to specifically focus on K-5 teachers. A portion of this money will fund the Mines workshops.

Angie Blomquist, the STEM teacher at Fairmount Elementary School in Golden, will be participating in a pilot workshop this spring.

“I realize that computer science is a need for the kids’ future,” Blomquist said. And “it’s my job to prepare them for the future. I need to continue my learning as a professional to best meet their needs.”

She added that not every student has access to technology at home, so when schools can provide them with computational skills and concepts — including those that don’t require use of a computer — it ensures that every student starts out with equal opportunity.

“If we set them up with computational skills as a young learner, it’s less daunting as they get older,” Blomquist said. “Hopefully, it will ignite a passion that they can continue on with. Then they can run with it.”

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