ONALASKA, Wis. - Wisconsin is now among nine states with computer science standards for public schools. The standards were adopted by the state this summer.
As educators prepare students for the workforce, school districts such as Onalaska have decided to add the new standards into their curriculum this year.
“Anything that you do on a computer, whether you move a mouse or you type something or you run a program or double-click on something in the background, there is a program running that is telling the monitor to portray an image,” said JJ Jansky who teaches Exploring Computer Science at Onalaska High School, “and some human had to tell the computer to do that.”
In Jansky's "Exploring Computer Science" class, students are learning the fundamentals of what makes a computer run.
“I feel like classes like this are good, because they kind of establish a basic knowledge of the subject,” said Ben Wurster, Onalaska High School junior.
This is the second year the course has been offered in Onalaska.
“We have basically doubled the number of the students in the course this year,” said Jared Schaffner, Onalaska High School principal.
Last year, the school did a pilot run of the class after Jansky took a professional development course taught by UW-La Crosse and Marquette University. The class was offered thanks to a grant from the National Science Foundation to start training educators across the state on how to teach basic courses.
“The people that put on that workshop are the people who had a big hand in creating the standards,” said Jansky. “So the curriculum that I was given from there meets all the standards that are now in place for the state of Wisconsin.”
But the state's new standards do not mean Wisconsin schools are required to teach computer science.
“The standards provide the guiding direction for what the activities will look like throughout the entire semester,” said Schaffner. “So it could look very different in different high schools with schools using the exact same standards.”
One of the challenges faced by many schools who want to offer computer science classes is finding someone who can teach them.
“We don't have anyone that is licensed to teach a real computer science class,” said Jansky. “I can teach the intro or "Exploring Computer Science" class only because I went to the workshop last summer.”
“Having someone with a computer science certification as a teacher is incredibly difficult to find,” said Schaffner.
In fact, the principal said it's probably one of the district's biggest hurdles.
“That's why this course, "Exploring Computer Science," developed through Marquette University and UW-La Crosse, is so important, is because it provided teachers with the training they needed,” said Schaffner.
That training enables teachers to give students the basic knowledge required for a high demand career.
“I've never really worked with programs that create an actual image,” said Wurster. “So, that will be something new.
And as computer science evolves in K-12 education, how it will be integrated into classrooms will evolve, as well.
“I think we'll also start seeing computer science being woven throughout other courses at the high school, as opposed to strictly a stand-alone course,” said Schaffner.
The effort will help prepare students for the almost half-million new jobs that will become available before the year 2024.
Wisconsin's new academic standards in computer science are written goals for teaching that determine what students should learn.
The state currently has these standards across 27 subject areas.
Local school boards decide whether to adopt the standards.
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