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Published April 27, 2021


Proposed certification program aims to expand computer science teaching in K-12

Proposed new certification would guide teachers from other disciplines to make a shift

To expand access to computer science courses in K-12 schools, GSE is developing a professional certification in computer science that aims to introduce more teachers to the discipline.

The training program, submitted as a proposal to SUNY, would help integrate computer science as a subject in all K-12 schools in the state. The GSE initiative is led by Chris Proctor, assistant professor of learning and instruction, Beth Etopio, assistant dean for teacher education, Erin Kearney, associate professor of learning and instruction, and Anne Izydorczak, the Gifted Math Program administrator.

It will allow tenured teachers of subjects like math or business to make an easier switch to computer science, or CS, instruction without returning to school to earn a degree in the field.

“This is a very difficult chicken and egg problem,” Proctor said. “Schools can’t offer CS courses without CS teachers, but it is hard to recruit CS teachers until there are open positions.”

The planned certification program will focus on training in content, pedagogy and leadership. Teachers will learn basic CS, how to effectively teach and tailor material to students, and how to lead outside of class.

“In thinking about leadership, we are recognizing that CS is not just something learned for an hour during the school day,” said Proctor. “It is connected to much broader structures of opportunity.”

A teacher preparation program is paramount to advancing computer science in K-12 schools. “The most loudly spoken reason is because of economic opportunity and being able to get good jobs,” he said. “That’s something to take seriously.”

Although Proctor believes career preparation is important, computer science education has another key benefit: Better citizenship.

“K-12 education has a civic and participatory mission of preparing people to participate in a democratic society,” he said. “If you want to have a citizenry that is capable of participating in democracy, you need to have widespread literacy so they can find out what’s going on, and so they can organize and communicate.”

A digitally driven world

As major news outlets and public services move online, print is being phased out, which means there are new barriers to communication: People need computational literacy and access to a computer and the internet.

For example, some have struggled to access COVID-19 vaccine information online. “There’s been a huge and fair outcry about the equity of vaccination. It’s a life-or-death issue of being able to get access to vaccines,” he said. “People who know how to use computers can access vaccines more easily.”

Helping young people become more computer literate will also help them tackle questions about privacy and safety and deeper considerations about who they want to be and what kind of world they want to live in.

“Individuals ask themselves daily why they’re being represented in this way. Why is this news being fed to me and not other news?” said Proctor. “They should know the language to be able to critique that. Computers are a partner in thought. There’s a lot of beauty and many possibilities that computers unlock.”

Addressing a ‘sexist and racist’ field

Before these issues can be addressed, Proctor sees a bigger problem: stereotypes that keep students from enrolling in classes.

Mainstream computer science “is an incredibly sexist and racist field,” he said. The work is driven by wealthy white males, which creates a narrow idea of what computer science is and who belongs in the field. Many students believe the subject is something “only the real smart kids are ready to handle,” said Proctor.

“I used to teach at an all-girls middle school where computer science was a required course for everyone,” he said. “Some brilliant students went on to high schools with unsupportive CS cultures, had negative interactions with boys, and said they never wanted to do computer science ever again.”

Proctor and his colleagues want to make sure everyone has a chance help shape society’s digital future. He hopes the proposed program will help students connect the powerful ideas of computing to their own lives.

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