Monday, August 1, 2011

Efforts on Behalf of K-12 CS Emphasize Interdisciplinary Nature of Computing

Speaking of innovation and social impact, it all starts young - what you learn as a child influences your lifelong interests and attitudes. We know that. That means that if we want computing to be used in creative, innovative, socially beneficial ways, then computer science has to become an integral part of the public education system. We need more of the types of people and organizations I periodically profile here who combine their personal passions with their profession to use computing for good.

In case you don't follow the news about the ongoing efforts to obtain inclusion of computer science in the K-12 science education core curriculum nationwide, I'd like to excerpt a few sections of a letter sent by the ACM, CSTA, CRA and NCWIT to the National Research Council (NRC) in response to NRC's draft release of "Framework for Science Education". This framework provides a strong policy statement about what K-12 students should study in high school and has a strong influence on curriculum development and priorities in high schools across the country. As you may well know, computer science has long been neglected, misinterpreted or misplaced in K-12 education. Those of you familiar with the tough battle being waged to obtain acknowledgement of the importance of studying computer science in high school know just how hard many people are working on this issue in Washington DC and elsewhere. The authors of the letter to the NRC state "We recommend the Framework for Science Education be amended to include computer science as a fifth major disciplinary area".

I cannot recap the whole story here, but I want to pull out some excerpts that make it clear how well the above authors understand the interdisciplinary and socially important nature of computer science. I was very glad to see these included in the letter to the NRC.  Brackets contain explanatory text added by me. Bolded text was added by me for emphasis.

"Taken together, the Framework and the CCSSI [Common Core State Standards Initiative] arguably represent the "core" of what students need to know in the science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) fields. Considering the tremendous influence that computer science has on worldwide economic growth, as well as its effects on modern culture and innovation in all areas of science, it is troubling that neither of these standards-setting initiatives view computer science as a critical and necessary element of STEM education in the 21st Century"

".. computer a discipline that not only stands on its own, but also contributes innovation to all of them [mathematics, engineering and the sciences]".

"Ultimately, no other field is more central to the digital revolution that is sweeping commerce, society and all fields of science. And no other field will give students the critical computational problem solving knowledge and practices they will need to be college- or career- ready, regardless of their ultimate occupation."

"An engineer using a computer to design a bridge must understand how the maximum capacity estimates were computed and their reliability. An educated citizen using a voting machine or bidding in an eBay auction should have a basic understanding of the underlying algorithms supporting such conveniences, as well as the security and privacy issues that arise..."

"Computational approaches are essential to the discovery and understanding of the fundamental rules that govern a wide variety of systems - from how ants behave to how stock markets behave"

" science is increasingly driving discovery in all areas of science."

and here is the kicker:

"If the final Framework does not encourage students to study computer science or understand its core ideas, who will...lead the way to addressing the fundamental challenges we as a society are facing, such as chronic disease, an over-extended energy grid, and a struggling aviation system running on 1970s technologies?"

followed a bit later by:

"...the failure to recognize, define and support computer science as its own field and content area within STEM education will exacerbate an already growing workforce and innovation crisis..."

Computing is as important to society and has the power to benefit society in an incredibly powerful way as any other field someone could point to. In many cases more so. Many of us, especially in the computing field, "get it". 

  • A continuing question is: how can we help everyone else to "get it"?

Useful Link Not Already Listed:
The ACM response

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