Computing jobs are the wave of the future. In fact, computing occupations are the No. 1 source of all new wages in the United States.
But currently, only about 25 percent of K-12 schools in the U.S. teach computer science.
In many states, like Wisconsin, there are no academic standards in the subject.
Now, the Department of Public Instruction wants to know if Wisconsinites feel computer science should be added to that list.
A computer science teacher in Onalaska thinks the answer is yes.
“I want to be a computer ... a game designer with graphic design and-or writing storyboards,” said Onalaska High School senior Daniel Benson.
To accomplish this goal, Benson will need a specific skill set.
“I'll need some math skills,” said Benson. “I'll need a little bit of coding skills. I need to know how my computer runs and how to artistically draw for the design part of it.”
While most schools offer math and art classes, computer science courses are a little harder to come by.
“We kind of decided we needed to up our offerings in the business department,” said Onalaska High School business teacher J.J. Jansky. “But the school doesn't really have a computer science program. So with that said, us three in the business department decided someone should take this on.”
So this summer, Jansky took a one-week professional development course taught by the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse and Marquette University thanks to a grant from the National Science Foundation.
“The workshops held at Marquette are to prepare teachers to teach what's called Exploring Computer Science curriculum,” said associate professor of computer science at the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse Tom Gendreau. “That's entry-level curriculum for any high school student.”
The universities are in the third year of the federally funded grant intended to increase access to computer science courses across the country.
“And so our job was to, in Wisconsin, try to build up a group of teachers interested in teaching computer science,” said Gendreau. “Give them some initial training and then continue on that training through the life of the grant and hopefully after that.”
This type of training is opening doors for high schools like Onalaska to offer students a foundational computer science course that teaches them how to think like a computer.
“It's very easy now for most people to interact with a computer,” said Jansky. “But understanding how all that actually works is something I don't think a lot of people actually know.”
“Computer science is learning the algorithmic thinking and problem-solving skills needed to write the software that implements the applications that people use,” said Gendreau.
Statistics show that students like Benson, who study computer science in high school are six times more likely to major in the high-demand field in college.
Since the grant began three years ago, about 90 Wisconsin teachers have taken the Exploring Computer Science class at Marquette.
Teachers from La Crosse, Black River Falls and Arcadia school districts have also attended the professional development class.
If you would like to give your opinion on whether Wisconsin should develop academic standards for computer science, you can leave your comments for the Department of Public Instruction at dpi.wi.gov/computer-science.