The tech industry is in desperate need of workers who possess computer science skills – with more than a half-million open tech positions in the United States.
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts that there will be a million more jobs available in computing by 2020 than qualified applicants who can fill those roles.
Why the large gap in tech jobs vs. tech applicants? Most of today’s workforce did not have access to computer-science education as part of their learning foundation like students do today.
For those individuals who did not receive this education, dozens of computer science programs – online, in-person and after work hours – have been instituted over the past several years to help this segment of the population learn the tech skills that the job market is demanding and help them fill positions in fields that desperately need workers.
While many programs have seen success and continued participation, they are not closing the gap at a rapid enough pace.
What else can be done to close the skills gap? While current adult-education programs for computer science are beneficial, we also need to be intentional about how tech skills are introduced to children at an early age.
Children need to not only learn foundational skills but also be provided with the full spectrum of how these tech skills can be applied in various careers to maintain their interest as they mature.
While most educators agree on the importance of implementing and supporting STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) curriculum, only six states require all K-12 students have access to computer science courses during the school day.
Even without nationwide funding and resources for such programs, there are three best ways to tackle the tech skills gap in the classroom and incorporate computer science learning in the classroom through innovative STEM curriculum platforms.
Choose a Teacher Advocate
One common misconception surrounding STEM curriculum in the classroom is that it requires staff with STEM expertise.
The fear for many teachers is that – if they don’t possess the tech skills themselves – how can they teach it?
The advent of in-classroom computer science platforms solves that problem by providing ready-made curriculum that any educator can lead, regardless of their prior experiences in computer science.
If you find educators who believe in the power of STEM, they can be the advocates to guide students through the curriculum.
The goal of early exposure is to build a solid foundation of computer science skills early in a student’s educational journey and to build confidence in fundamental skills and core concepts.
Instill a Growth Mindset
Harvard Business Review explains the difference between two types of mindsets – growth and fixed:
According to Harvard Business Review, “Individuals who believe their talents can be developed (through hard work, good strategies, and input from others) have a growth mindset. They tend to achieve more than those with a more fixed mindset (those who believe their talents are innate gifts).”
For educators teaching STEM, it is important that they provide positive reinforcement related to the effort of the student, even if the end result does not achieve the desired outcome. When students believe they can get better through effort, they have a growth mindset. If they believe they have a built-in set of skills and are simply “not good at computer science because I keep getting it wrong,” they have a fixed mindset and will shy away from increasing levels of difficulty.
A progressive computer science platform encourages students to have a growth mindset – exposing them to “successful failure” – where you learn from what isn’t working and apply it the next time around. With a progression of skills, students can develop an interest in tackling harder challenges as their education continues, applying computer science concepts to other fields of study.
Establish that Computer Science Is More Than Coding
Computer science is often used synonymously with coding — but coding is only one aspect of computer science and not something that will keep all students engaged if seen as their only path in STEM.
Computer science encompasses additional pillars like digital citizenship and hardware.
To keep students engaged in computer science, they must learn the skills in a variety of ways and gain exposure to the different potential applications of the knowledge gleaned. It is important that educational platforms take all aspects of computer science into account and have a curriculum addressing more than coding:
The most common way to introduce students to computer science is through coding. Coding engages the visual, hands-on students with project-based learning and computational thinking behind a computer. Students build problem-solving and analytical skills through interactive learning experience with coding projects.
Robots, anyone? For the tactile, hands-on learners who do not express robust interest in working in front of a computer screen, the curriculum can include interactive, project-based hardware lessons. This allows students to combine hardware exploration with computational thinking strategies to reinforce computer science principles – reaching students who might have opted out otherwise.
Computer science is everywhere and its principles can be applied to engaging offline games and activities. Encouraging students to look for and practice foundational computer science skills through creative activities reinforces these foundational principals.
For example, most computer users are familiar with compressed formats such as zip or gif images, which are based on a method called Ziv-Lempel coding (finding patterns in text.) Pull out a book of children’s nursery rhymes, which often involve repeated words and sequences, and examine them to find examples of patterns in text – just like text compression.
- Digital Citizenship
With students growing up as digital natives, it is important that they understand how to be safe and proactive digital citizens. By teaching digital citizenship as part of a STEM curriculum, students receive foundational skills needed to safely navigate technology in their daily lives. Topics like cyber ethics and cyber security can bring an informed and ethical background into the future of computer science and technology.
When educators, employers and government officials come together on initiatives to close the tech skills gap, everyone wins. Tech platforms and programs that address the tech skills gap at every age, gender, and the socioeconomic level will be the key to making progress, helping shape the future of the world’s innovation curve.
Author: Christine McDonnell is the CEO of Codelicious.com
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