Computer science to be added to Utah classroom curriculum by 2022

Ciera Kueser
Dillan Orr spends time coding websites and programming computer games after learning how to code from Weber State’s First LEGO League. The Utah State Board of Education plans to implement computer science in K-12 schooling by 2022. (Ciera Kueser)

Utah State Board of Education digital literacy specialist Ashley Higgs grew up knowing she wanted to be an educator. She asked Santa for a whiteboard and lined up her stuffed animals to teach them math equations in sixth grade.

After 12 years of teaching computer literacy at South Jordan Middle School, she helped create a computer science program proposal to be implemented in grades K–12. The Utah Board of Education approved the proposal in October.

According to Higgs, Utah State Legislature leaders approached the Utah State Board of Education specialists and asked them to create a task force to implement computer science into the classroom. State Superintendent of Public Instruction Sydnee Dickson headed the task force and invited Higgs and administration from elementary, middle, junior and high schools. She also invited parents, teachers and other key stakeholders to participate.

“The task force met three times to see first, what we had already; second, where we were lacking; and third, where we needed to go,” Higgs said.

The task force created a computer science framework for K–12 Utah public and charter schools. The program is expected to be fully implemented in Utah K–12 classrooms by 2022. The framework communicates the importance of computer science and introduces  computer science basics in kindergarten and incrementally builds on those concepts throughout the following grades, according to Higgs.

Higgs said the initiative is meant to change the way students approach problems similar to today’s real world issues.

“We want them to learn skills such as computational thinking, problem solving, using mathematical reasoning. Computer science isn’t about sitting in front of a computer and coding all day,” Higgs said. “It’s about how to solve problems and how to think outside the box, because a lot of times there are many answers to a problem.”

Higgs said the framework is meant to prepare students for the workforce.

“We have a shortage in computer science IT jobs, and kids don’t have the skills needed to fulfill those jobs. The framework focuses on getting kids to have work place skills so they can be successful in a career,” Higgs said.

Higgs and the Utah State Board of Education specialists aren’t the only people noticing large programming job vacancies.

BYU senior computer science major Carter McBride said implementing computer science in Utah’s K–12 education system would be beneficial to young students.

Growing up in Colorado, the K–12 education system didn’t give McBride access to computer science courses. However, because his father was an electrical engineer, McBride used a home computer at a young age. He grew up learning how to code from a programming book his father gave him.

McBride took a class in middle school that taught students how to build basic websites. He took another computer science class in high school which helped solidify his love for programming.

McBride said he supports the framework and noted the lack of qualified programmers in the workforce.

“There is a lot of demand right now. It’s been that way the past few years. We are in the middle of a software boom. There’s a lot of competition,” McBride said. “In 2015 there were 59,581 computer science graduates and 527,169 open computing jobs.”

McBride said the framework could help younger kids learn to love programming like he does.

Thanks to a program hosted by Weber State called FIRST LEGO League, a group of middle school students from South Jordan had the opportunity to learn how to program.

Professor Ken Rodham, BYU’s computer science undergraduate coordinator, said the new framework is a good way to get more students aware of computer science and the future career opportunities it provides.

“I think that computer science should be integrated just like math is into every level of education. Right now you don’t find computer science in a lot of schools. It’s weak, and if you do find it, it’s not there until high school,” Rodham said. “That’s kind of late. You need to teach people, at least the basic concepts, earlier — for all the same reasons you would teach math from almost day one.”

Rodham said teaching kids to think differently and solve problems with the new framework will change the younger generations outlook on computer science and will help fill the multitude of computing job vacancies. 

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