Up to 1,500 elementary school teachers across Colorado could receive training this year to teach basic computer science concepts in their classrooms, thanks to a new partnership between Colorado School of Mines and the Colorado Department of Education.
The state will provide funding to the Mines Computer Science Department for free, one-day workshops for K-5 teachers across the state. School districts can begin recruiting teachers for this professional development opportunity and apply for training slots including funds to provide stipends to participating teachers who complete the training.
"The goal is to train at least one teacher per elementary school in the state of Colorado," said Tracy Camp, professor and head of the Computer Science Department at Mines. "Over the years there's been a lot of research on how we change the demographics in computer science and one of the conclusions from that research is we need to get down into the K-12 level. Computers in the classroom today are being used more as a tool, not as a potential career. Students are learning computer skills such as how you develop a presentation on the computer, not how you can process data or develop new tools that could be useful for whatever you're working on."
The state's Computer Science Teacher Education Grant Program, launched in 2017, provided $440,000 in professional development grants for teachers in its first year and another $380,000 in 2018. The grants have been awarded to districts, Boards of Cooperative Educational Services and charter schools for professional development in computer science for K-12 teachers. The state legislature in 2018 allocated an additional $500,000 specifically for teachers at the elementary school level, a portion of which will fund the Mines-CDE partnership.
"We have thousands of computer science jobs available and not enough students graduating with degrees to meet the demand," said Education Commissioner Dr. Katy Anthes. "Through this partnership with the Colorado School of Mines, elementary school teachers across the state will get the proper training to help expand the learning opportunities for our youngest students. We hope this inspires students to continue gathering computer science skills throughout their academic careers that can lead to meeting the demand in the years to come."
The Mines Computer Science-Fundamental Approach to Standards Training (CS-FAST) curriculum will specifically focus on teaching computational thinking, a skill that is valuable no matter what career path students ultimately pursue, Camp said.
"Computational thinking embodies the process used by computers to solve problems - from breaking down the problem into a way that can be solved efficiently with a series of ordered steps, to creating an effective decision from the results," Camp said. "To apply computational thinking is to think like a computer scientist."
"Just like reading and writing, being able to think computationally is valuable," she said. "If you're given a problem, it's about how you would go about solving the problem - not necessarily on the computer."
At the CS-FAST workshops, participating teachers will get hands-on training in CS Unplugged, a collection of free learning activities that help teach computational thinking - all without the use of a computer - as well as instruction on coding. Participating teachers will also learn the Computer Science Teaching Association teaching standards for their specific grade level.
For more information about computer science professional development options for elementary teachers and for district details on how to apply, visit the Computer Science Grants for Teachers webpage or contact Joanna Bruno at firstname.lastname@example.org or 303-866-6571.
Emilie Rusch, Public Information Specialist, Colorado School of Mines | 303-273-3361 | email@example.com
Jeremy Meyer, Director of Communications, Colorado Department of Education | 303-866-4247 | firstname.lastname@example.org