[Career and Technical Education] Engaging High School Students in Computer Science Learning

Monday, December 12, 2016 -- Sarah Cornelius

We’ve all heard the stats—computer science (CS) is a field on the rise, and incorporating it in standard K–12 curriculum is becoming more of a priority, especially for high school students nearing graduation. The latest stats from CSEdWeek.org make the urgency of this issue even more clear. There are more than 517,000 jobs open in the computing field in the U.S., but last year fewer than 43,000 computer science students graduated into the workforce. And, while 90% of parents want their child to study computer science, only 40% of U.S. schools are currently offering it as a subject. So, what can educators do to start introducing high school students to computer science? Here are four easy steps:

First, define it

Lots of young students (and adults) have an idea in their head of what computer science is that’s incorrect. CS workers are not super geniuses permanently planted behind computer screens, endlessly churning out lines of indecipherable code. The reality is far less intimidating—the field focused primarily on logical problem-solving. Computer science is all about taking a task, breaking it down into essential steps, and determining a creative way to complete those steps. These are skills that students have practiced in plenty of other classes and real-life situations. Break down some of the myths about computer science, and watch your students warm up to the idea. 

Then, bring it to life

Just as the definition of computer science is far broader than many students think, so are its applications. Computer science touches nearly all career fields and many day-to-day tasks. Talk to your students about the role CS plays in some of their specific interests. Those smartphones they can’t put down and the apps they’re totally hooked on—computer scientists and engineers developed all of technology. Are they gamers? Their favorite games are brought to life thanks to computer science. Music fans? Most contemporary music is mixed with the help of complex software, and electronic music is created with computer programs. However you frame it, computer science isn’t a niche; it’s everywhere.

Next, make career connections

For high school students, the big question is always “why?” They want to know the value the subjects they’re being taught, the activities they’re being assigned, and the tests they’re being asked to take will actually have outside of the classroom. When it comes to computer science, educators can quickly rattle off plenty of easy answers to these questions. And the best way to provide those answers to them is to offer your students opportunities to see all of the career possibilities that computer science opens up. Reach out to parents and your community to create these opportunities—invite guest speakers from the industry into your classroom to talk about their careers, have a local university representative come in to discuss their CS-related programs, or arrange a visit to a local company to meet their engineers and see how they’re putting computer science to use. Don’t hesitate to look beyond technology companies—the majority of CS jobs are actually outside of software or hardware firms.

Finally, offer resources

There may still be a shortage of students pursuing computer science, but there’s no lack of resources out there to support those students who do have an interest! Help your learners dip their toes into the computer science pool by giving them the chance to explore some of the many free and interactive online classes that introduce computing and programming. A few examples to get them started include Hour of Code, Codecademy, and Khan Academy. Then, foster sparks of interest in your students by directing them toward engaging, in-person opportunities like summer camps and pre-college programs. These unique experiences will allow them to meet and learn alongside other high schoolers, and they’ll look great on college resumes. Scholarships are often available for these types of programs if cost is a concern.   

Looking for tools to make computer science part of your school’s or district’s course offerings? Check out Edmentum’s Career and Technical Education course library, including Computer Programming, Game Development, Introduction to Cybersecurity!