There’s no doubt that in today’s world, computer science (CS) is foundational knowledge for all students and coding is a foundational skill — just like reading and writing. Yet many schools, especially those in low socioeconomic areas, don’t teach computer science because of a lack resources and the remediation that is needed at an early age.
Therefore, many students, particularly those from under-represented groups, including girls and students of color, miss out on taking classes that would put them on track for STEM and CS careers.
And that’s a problem.
Since the early 2000s there has been a huge push to give more students access to the skills they need to pursue STEM/CS fields, but there is still a lack of African-American, Hispanic and women represented in those fields. Consider these statistics:
Why is this still an issue if we have an increasing number of grants, initiatives and educators teaching entry-level classes that prepare student for STEM/CS careers? We as educators must push even harder to provide access to all students, not just the ones we feel should go into those fields. All students should have the opportunity to explore, think critically and exercise student voice and choice.
Here are five things you can do to bring STEM/CS to all students:
Be aware of your biases. Everyone has unconscious biases that are conditioned by family, friends and culture. It’s important to reflect on our own biases and consider if they result in inequity. Often times, for example, we think certain students should take advanced placement classes, play a sport, be in a play or participate on a robotics team while others should not. Why not give all students the option to choose?
Teach computational thinking skills in all classes. Embedding the engineering design process into all activities allows students to think critically and own their learning. For an example, language arts is a vital subject in all K-12 schools. Computer science can be incorporated by allowing students to journal their reflections after completing a computer science activity. Journaling is a great way to reflect on what worked well and what are some things that might need to be changed in the future.
Teach parents about STEM/CS. Educate the community by hosting community STEM/CS expo nights each semester where parents can find resources their children can use at home and at school. Invite companies that focus on STEM/CS fields to showcase their summer camps and resources. Host mythbuster sessions where parents can debunk myths such as: STEM is just engineering, STEM fields are only for the gifted and talented students or STEM is only for resource-rich school districts.
Create student-led clubs. There are a lot of different organizations and clubs that engage students in STEM/CS, such as Girls Who Code, Code Like a Girl in Australia and Coding Club International. Code.org and Google CS First offer resources on how to start a coding club. If your own CS skills aren’t strong, don’t worry. Allow students to lead their learning and you become the facilitator. Educators do not have to be the experts.
Bring role models into your schools, classrooms and community nights. Often students don’t think they can become an engineer, a computer scientist or a biomedical engineer because they don’t see role models who look like them. Invite role models to your classroom and allow them to volunteer. Skype in the Classroom will help you find experts to invite and many other organizations can help you find STEM experts, such as Million Women Mentors, the National Center for Women & Information Technology (NCWIT), Nepris and Texas Girls Collaborative Project.
Kimberly Lane, a nationally award-winning educator and speaker, is director of blended learning for Lancaster ISD in Texas. She began her career in educational technology 11 years ago in Mississippi and Texas and has coached hundreds of educators, both face to face and virtually, in computer science integration, blended learning strategies and educational technology. She currently serves as a technology consultant for Educate Texas, serves as the city lead for Black Tech Women in Dallas and is a guest technology consultant for the Global Academic Technology Essentials Teacher Institute at Mississippi State University. Follow her on Twitter at @askatechnogirl.