At UF, we work together to provide Florida teachers and students with computer skills

In a world driven by technological innovation, we should be teaching all young learners computer skills from the early grades.

In fact, Florida HB 495, enacted in 2018, requires all middle and high schools to provide computer classes. So it would appear that all Florida students would have the same opportunity to learn computer science. But many school districts struggle to provide computer education, especially rural districts and those serving poorer students.

Why? Simply put, school districts do not have enough teachers who know the basics of computers.

Maya Israel [ Provided ]

This shortage is such a major problem that it was touched upon in the recently released Action to Catalyze Tech (ACT) report by Catalyze Tech, an initiative that aligns more than 30 of the major players in the tech industry, including Snap and Google. The report focuses on issues of diversity, equity and inclusion and links this industry-wide issue to an urgent need to improve access to computer science education in schools. public. He describes the national shortage of qualified teachers as “critical” and the quality of the courses offered as “uneven”.

This issue is a “high leverage point,” the report said, for the tech industry, philanthropists and governments to join forces – and there is great news on that front for Florida.

Catalyze Tech works with CSforAll, a nonprofit organization, to encourage financial investment in teacher preparation in computer science that ensures teachers have the skills to work with students of diverse cultures, abilities, socioeconomic backgrounds and geographic regions through a new CSforED initiative. CSforAll’s mission is to make high quality computer education an integral part of the educational experience for all students from Kindergarten to Grade 12. To date, $ 20 million has been raised for this effort.

This includes $ 5 million for the University of Florida College of Education from Citadel founder and CEO Ken Griffin. The new Kenneth C. Griffin Computer Education for All initiative will allow us to develop innovative ways to include computers in teacher preparation. This investment brings together researchers and teacher trainers from UF and IT education officials from across the state to develop a coordinated vision for teacher preparation in IT. These efforts will include:

  • an online community of practice where new teachers from across Florida can learn together;
  • teaching materials that can be used in all teacher training programs; and
  • Exam preparation resources for teachers who choose to take the Florida K-12 Computer Science Teacher Certification Exam so that they can become certified to teach this subject.
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Our experience has shown us that teachers often have misconceptions about what IT is, who can do IT, and who can become IT. One of the main goals of Kenneth C. Griffin’s Computing Education for All Initiative is to help teachers see themselves and their students as capable people in computing.

Many companies recognize that a more diverse workforce is good for business. Businesses made up of people who mirror their customers develop products that have broader appeal. And a diverse tech workforce begins with the young learners who see themselves in these career paths. Without teachers offering these experiences, we will continue to strive to attract young women, students with disabilities, and students from a wide range of socio-economic and cultural backgrounds into majors in computer science and technology fields. Therefore, teacher preparation is a key part of the solution.

To meet the need for computer training, school districts are currently offering professional development sessions that teachers attend after school hours, on weekends, or during the summer. Many of these offerings are great because they meet the needs of today’s teachers who want to learn how to teach computer science. Yet participating in professional computer learning in this manner is not ideal for many working adults, who must spend their evenings, weekends and / or summers retooling. It would be much better if K-12 teachers graduated from universities with the skills to teach computer science, which this new initiative will help accomplish.

It will also help us highlight the fact that computer skills are useful in a wide range of careers, including those not traditionally associated with technology like the arts. Ultimately, if we are serious about expanding and making the field of IT more inclusive, we need to start with well-prepared teachers who believe that all students deserve to have access to the opportunities offered by teaching IT. computer science.

Maya Israel is associate professor of educational technology and computer training and director of the Creative technology research laboratory at the University of Florida.

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