My View

Computer Science for Every Student
By MICHAEL P. NAGLER/School Administrator, October 2017

TO PROMOTE CHANGE in systems that move at a glacial speed, I think we must look for commonalities in today’s cutting-edge innovations. What do driverless cars, artificial intelligence, space travel and robotic automation in manufacturing and retail all share? I see several skill sets prevailing.

Computer science, entrepreneurship, creativity and autonomy span these initiatives — and they are the skills our schools ought to be cultivating. Some of them, of course, have been embedded in existing courses (maker spaces in school libraries being one such example).

Yet no simple solution is available to act on the growing consensus that coding is an imperative skill for students. Unlike other subjects, there is no existing curriculum pathway. The fact no prerequisite exists for enrolling in Advanced Placement computer science attests to that.

Perhaps more importantly, computer languages change so rapidly that a clear path may not be plausible. We need to anchor curriculum around common coding concepts, such as loops and sequencing, which are present in all languages and can be taught outside any formal computer science curriculum.

Tangible Outcomes
Another key obstacle: Who will teach computer science in our schools? We need to expose every student to a quality curriculum taught by competent educators. An hour of code, while a great introduction touted by, doesn’t allow for expansion and sustainability. Neither do after-school coding or robotics clubs. These activities can generate student interest, but they shouldn’t be considered curriculum.

An exemplary K-12 computer science program ought to give students multiple pathways and entry points to learn different coding languages and then demonstrate their understanding by applying the knowledge.

Unlike advanced math courses in our schools, computer science must provide tangible, real-world connections between theory and practice. Students can learn a mathematical concept such as algorithms, write code using that concept and then run the application and visually see a product. I have watched my 11-year-old son grasp basic calculus to produce a graphic effect while coding his video game.

It’s clear that most computer science majors do not choose to become teachers. We have a dearth of qualified teachers with the expertise to teach coding languages, especially in the younger grades, which makes any K-12 implementation problematic.

An Outside Partner
The Mineola Public Schools on Long Island have found a solution by collaborating with KidOYO, a nonprofit provider of educational programs in engineering and computer science, to serve our students.

The platform of KidOYO (the latter abbreviation stands for “own your own”) revolves around courses, challenges and badges. A self-paced course, varying in length by student, typically runs a few hours, providing instruction in a specific skill, concept or language. Students then demonstrate proficiency by completing a challenge based on the course. If done correctly, students are issued a badge, a form of credential, and the badges are collected in a digital portfolio that can be organized by coding language.

Students work independently and at their own skill level following pathways to understanding and often becoming mentors for their peers. KidOYO enables students to create their own challenges to show mastery of the skill.

Simultaneously, our teachers work collaboratively with program designers to create curriculum projects. Each quarter, students complete a coding project related to classwork. Teachers grade the content and virtual mentors assist with student coding problems and provide support. College undergraduates, hired by KidOYO, serve as online mentors, solving the lack of teacher expertise in computer science.

Our students also learn HTML and create website portfolios. I used the platform last summer to teach myself HTML. Here is my product:

Based on our experiences of the past three years, I believe computer science must be a required part of the equation for every student in K-12 education. We need to be nimble and creative, and we must move forward.

is superintendent of Mineola Union Free School District in Mineola, N.Y. E-mail: Twitter: @NaglersNotions