RMSC Director’s Notes

Computer Science Craze in Michigan

As the state looks to fill 800,000 high-tech, high-demand jobs, one key area of focus is in the computer science, information technology, and coding sector.  According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ Employment Projections, employment numbers in the following fields will all increase significantly in the period from 2016-2026:

  • Computer and information research scientists (19.2% increase)
  • Computer hardware engineers (5.5% increase)
  • Computer user support specialists (11.3% increase)
  • Computer science teachers, postsecondary (8.1% increase)

In Michigan, we struggle to find time for K-12 students to take computer science.  Students can take Computer Science to fulfill their 3rd science credit, as per the Michigan Merit Curriculum, if it integrates science content, but not instead of a science class.  Similarly, Algebra II requirements can be fulfilled, but not exchanged through an integrated approach to the math curriculum.  Michigan is one of just a handful of states that does not provide a clear pathway to graduation credits for taking a computer science class.

Kris Pachla

RMSC Director, Kris Pachla

In some state, like Virginia, Computer Science is required. Chicago made a similar commitment in 2016.  Other states allow students to count it as a math requirement (such as Rhode Island), or as a language other than English (such as Texas).  A tracking document, outlining progress toward a number of “computer science friendly practices” shows that we still have a lot of work to do toward making CS a reality.

Whether students should be required to take a computer science course is a debate that I won’t touch on today.  However, students should be given the opportunity to take a computer science class, just as they should be given the opportunity to take a course in French, or in Genetics, or any other subject that interests them.  Right now, just a handful of students in Michigan are able to access this promising, and timely subject.

There are two efforts underway in the state to address this access issue: One legislative and one education.

A few bills have been introduced in each chamber to allow for students to count computer science or coding toward graduation requirements.  House Bill 4114, introduced by Representative Tim Kelly and co-sponsored by the bipartisan group of Reps. Iden, Hughes, Alexander, Lilly, Hornberger, Garcia and Crawford, would allow students to take a combination of three credits in “21st century skills” including foreign languages, visual, performing or applied arts, computer science, or CTE courses.  House Bill 4318, introduced by Representative Gary Howell and cosponsored by another bipartisan group of Reps, would allow for students to count Computer Science as a math credit.  Both of these bills are stalled for now.

The Michigan Math and Science Centers Network has partnered with code.org to bring computer science learning to the state . Starting last year, the MMSCN and code.org brought 100 Michigan teachers to Philadelphia, PA for the AP Computer Science TeacherCon, a convention to introduce CS learning to teachers.  This event allowed teachers across the state to learn, prepare, and engage in computer science principles. 

As previously announced, this year TeacherCon will be held in Grand Rapids!

200 spots (100 middle school and 100 high school) will be offered to teachers across the state.  Time is running out to apply, so click the link here to register.  Teachers that are selected will gain access to the following, free of charge:

  • Five day conference, with breakfast, lunch, snacks and lodging at the JW Marriott in Grand Rapids
  • Four follow-up workshops throughout the course of the next year
  • Materials to teach CS in your classroom, including access to the code.org curriculum

This work is being generously supported by the MiSTEM Advisory Council’s STEMworks grant program. For more information on the opportunities, or for the link to sign up, visit micoding.weebly.com

As we move forward in the computer science craze, it’s worth keeping an eye on how we’ll navigate the future of coding.  Despite all of the increases in jobs listed above, a shocking shift in jobs is the number of computer operators and computer programmers, which will decrease by 22.8% and 7.2%, respectively, over the next 8 years. The jobs of today aren’t the jobs of tomorrow. And narrowly focusing on just the language, or just the technology will leave us in 8 years in a place of inflexibility, stagnant, and recessed.  By focusing on the broad, underlying skills necessary, in addition to the content, we can ensure that students will be successful even when the Artificial Intelligence start coding for us.

As always, any comments or questions can be directed to me personally, at pachlkri@gvsu.edu.

Page last modified March 13, 2018