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Can computer science (CS) be equity's new language?

July 28 2021 · By Karen Melara

Last month, BootUp PD and the National School Board Association (NSBA) hosted a roundtable discussion posing that very question. Over 20 superintendents across the United States and Canada participated in the conversation. They openly reflected on the equity gaps in computer science and technology, strategies for integration, and the importance of ensuring fair access to all students while in the classroom and at home.

These change agents from districts across the country have decoded unique formulas (no one size fits all) in bridging access gaps in technology, but not without encountering a few bugs along the way. Yet, these resilient and determined superintendents saw great opportunity in bridging the digital divide through computer science education. Where traditionally, students were "more consumers than producers of knowledge," noted by Todd Ullah, Vice President at the National Education Foundation, while working at LAUSD as an administrator. This is where the opportunity lies in bridging the equity gaps in technology across schools and districts to ensure equitable access to all.

Echoed across the discussion was the importance of introducing CS at an early age and exposing students during the school day versus an after-school program to ensure thorough, consistent, and equitable access to all students. As Geri Gilstrap, Superintendent at Stilwell Public Schools in Oklahoma, commented, "Students are more open-minded at a young age." That objectivity allows students to build confidence and critical problem-solving skills at an early age, ensuring their success with CS and beyond, no matter who they are or where they come from.

In terms of creating equitable access for all, Dr. Jared Bloom, Superintendent at Franklin Square School District in New York, stated, "It's not a one and done. That everyday exposure is critical." For truly equitable access to computer science, students must get exposed to computer science during the day. The solution - implementation into subjects like math, science, history, even art, and music! By listening to teachers and staff, integrating CS into the curriculum becomes manageable and unburdens the teachers from an additional task on the long list of duties.

With an easy-to-replicate, two-pronged process, Dr. Jared Bloom, advocates for starting computer science at the elementary level and continuing it through high school. The second leg of their district’s strategy is partnering with museums or local businesses and bringing in real-life engineers, programmers, doctors, pilots, etc., representing the district's demographics. "They need to see coders who look like them" so students can believe "we can achieve that as well." Therefore students can see themselves in these brilliant, diverse minds, showing them what is possible.

Even though the pandemic brought about a new set of challenges, like going virtual and lack of access to technologies, through it all, these superintendents turned challenging times into opportunities for students and staff. From providing one-to-one computers to taking a step back and reimagining education. As Edward Manuszak, Superintendent at Dundee Community Schools, points out, "How do we want learning and teaching to look going forward?" Students’ learning experiences are as unique as they are, so Edward is looking to personalize the learning experience for his students, noting that some students are actually more adept at learning in a virtual or hybrid setting versus an in-person classroom.

He's not alone in this notion of customization and personalization for students. Roger León, Superintendent at Newark Board of Education, pointed out the opportunity for asynchronous instruction and going beyond the traditional school day. He suggested utilizing time beyond the school day, not necessarily in an after-school program but encouraging parents at home to participate in creating a holistic learning journey.

All these efforts could not be made possible without a few resilient minds. Through the shock of the pandemic, implementing computer science has been no easy feat with funding obstacles, wavering interests, and implementation blocks. But for these superintendents, there was no question about HOW to implement computer science into their curriculum but WHEN. From Legos and robotics in New Jersey to a student-run manufacturing company in Minnesota, equitable computer science experiences allow students to express themselves and lift voices that usually - and tragically - go unheard.

To learn more and watch the full recording of the roundtable discussion, please contact BootUp PD at info@bootuppd.org.

Can computer science be equity's new language?

Equity and Inclusion
Computer Science
Elementary Education

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