Incorporate Problem Solving with Computer Science in Every Class
Computers and software are driving innovation in every sector of society, and our students, at every grade level, need to add this new literacy to their learning and understanding.
This is especially important for our girls and minority students. They are not taking computer science classes in high school or college, which means they are not participating in the development of new technologies. And, the lack of representation is a significant problem. Initial facial recognition software did not recognize dark skin, most likely because all of the software engineers that were writing and testing the code were white. Initially, Apple’s health application didn’t have any support for women’s health issue—most likely because Apple has a lack of women working on their engineering teams.
How can you incorporate computer science into your classroom?
English Language Arts
Have students analyze data on a topic that fits with your language arts or social studies curriculum. Converting a spreadsheet into a graph and then analyzing the graph is a starting point for data science. There are a variety of free sites that provide data for students to use, and much of the data will fit with a geography curriculum or a novel study.
Have art students look into facial and image recognition and consider how important accurate recognition is for self-driving cars. Driverless vehicles depend on accurate and immediate data from sensors that need to determine if an object is a person, another vehicle, litter in the street or a bicyclist.
Band and orchestra classes can incorporate coding with music and can also have students learn how computers process and save audio. There are several free resources for teachers that will help students learn more about code by writing music.
Math students can write algorithms or procedures that detail how to solve problems. There is a significant overlap with math and computer science, so spending some time writing programs in a beginner programming language like Scratch or Python will help the students understand how computers execute math instructions and also how computers follow directions. Practicing computational thinking will help the students understand that using a logical process to solve problems is helpful in every area.
If your school district still has a “Computer Applications” course that includes keyboarding and productivity tools (word processing, keyboarding and presentation software) start to move towards a computer science curriculum, especially ones that involves coding—writing software using a programming language. Code.org, Google and Microsoft are just a few organizations that provide free curriculum for teachers and students. The gatekeeper skill for now and the future is not keyboarding—it is problem solving.
The primary goal for incorporating coding and computer science is to increase the problem-solving capacity of our students at all ages. But a very important secondary goal is to encourage currently underrepresented populations to pursue a computer science education. Our country is more and more dependent on software, which makes equity in computer science a social justice issue.
Patty Hicks is a former computer programmer and current educator. She been teaching middle school computer courses since 2003, and has been with Indian Prairie School District in Naperville, Illinois since 2006. Patty started including coding and computer science concepts into the curriculum back in 2009 after learning about Scratch. She has presented at the MIT Scratch conference and at SIGCSE, and taught coding workshops for the Illinois Computing Educators association and the DuPage County Regional Office of Education.