Teachers are learning computer science

Teachers met in Ames for the Computer Science Principles workshop on Sept. 16. Photo courtesy of Samantha Dahlby

In order for middle school and high school students in Iowa to learn more about computer science, their teachers need to be able to teach it.

So Samantha Dahlby of NewBoCo is teaching the teachers.

Dahlby—a former software engineer—is a K-12 education coordinator for the Cedar Rapids-based nonprofit NewBoCo. Through a partnership with Code.Org, Iowa teachers at the middle and high school levels are able to receive free training to teach computer science for the next two years.

Because according to Code.Org, eight percent of school districts in Iowa teach computer science.

So Dahlby recruited 33 teachers from all across Iowa to participate in the program with Code.Org, which consists of nine contact days—four academic workshops throughout the school year held at Iowa State University and five days in the summer.

She expects the number of teachers to double next year.

Because jobs are available

Code.Org tracks each state along with the number of open computing jobs and Iowa has 3,793 open computing jobs with an average salary of $79,062.

The average salary in Iowa is $43,000.

Dahlby says that along with getting more children involved in computer science, she’s focusing on getting more diversity into the industry as well.

“You don’t have to be a stereotypical geek, you can just want to solve a problem,” Dahlby says. “For whatever reason, girls have been encouraged to not go into those fields. Some studies have said that girls want to make a difference, so they go into biology or medical fields.

“Some people have better results by showing how you can make impacts in the world through computer science.”

Dahlby says she is encouraging teachers to reach out to groups of students who do not fit the stereotypical mold of a computer science student.

“Most of the time they go to robotics clubs and all of those students will want to take this class, which is great,” Dahlby explains. “But try reaching out to the theatre groups, chess clubs, home economics. We don’t expect everyone to become a computer scientist but just having that basic knowledge will help them in whatever career they go into.”

Three students at Osage High School learn to code using the curriculum from NewBoCo. Photo Courtesy of Chris Kyhl


A teacher perspective

Chris Kyhl teaches math and computer science at Osage High School and was contacted by Dahlby about implementing the computer science curriculum at the high school.

He signed up last April and was sent to Houston in June to be trained in the curriculum.

Kyhl said the district lost its computer science teacher last year and he saw an opportunity to stretch himself as a teacher to learn something new.

“Coding teaches students to think in a much deeper and more critical manner,” Kyhl says. “They learn lots of reasoning skills and takes them out of the black and white there is one answer mode of education.

“They have to learn to think outside the box and also learn to rely on collaboration to complete their goals/tasks.”

Kyhl said Osage High School offers two AP courses—a semester class and a full year class—for students who have taken Algebra 1.

“It’s not just for ‘elite’ students,” Kyhl says. “The biggest hope I and this group have is to make coding accessible to everyone and to have as many kids as we possibly can have at least a background in computer science and maybe spark an interest or a passion they did not know they have.”

What does the future look like?

Because the program is in its first year Dahlby hesitates to say there is improvement being made, but she says the response from the 33 teachers has been overwhelmingly positive.

“Most teachers don’t have computer science backgrounds and they are feeling quite confident and supportive through the community we are building,” Dahlby says. “Especially teachers in rural districts that could feel they are in a silo and nobody else in the district may know what they are doing. This is a way to provide some input and meet other teachers doing the same thing.”