Trevor Packer at College Board Champions Coding
By Sybil Maimin
The “Learn How to Code” movement is hot and many important and influential individuals and entities are joining the push for computer science classes in every school in America. In 2015, the College Board, best known for its SAT and AP exams, partnered with code.org to develop advanced placement computer science courses. Coding, which is similar to programming and involves creating a set of steps to be fed into a machine to solve a problem, can be taught as part of computer science or as a separate course. Code.org, a non-profit organization founded in 2013, offers free beginning coding lessons on its website, trains educators, and encourages high schools to include computer science in their curricula. It especially encourages women and minorities to take computer classes to correct the current vast underrepresentation of that group in computer proficiency.
In a conversation with Education Update, College Board executive Trevor Packer explained that, in addition to testing, the College Board does research and advocacy and develops courses, programs, and services that enhance college readiness and success. It “cares about connecting students to 21st century careers and diverse opportunities.” Positions that require coding are increasing and, “If all kids don’t have equal access and opportunities in high school, they won’t have equal access to jobs and careers.” Besides possibilities of employment in the field, Packer sees other values in coding education, including improved individual and societal experiences due to immediate solutions to problems, as well as the ability to quickly fix an unsatisfactory result. Departing from traditional practice of programmers working alone, the College Board encourages coders to work in teams, and a new advanced placement computer science course will revolve around groups of students explaining how they came up with a particular code, used it and, together, solved a problem. Teamwork is increasingly common in today’s workplace and the course will help build needed social and communication skills.
A major obstacle to increasing computer science courses is the shortage of educators trained in the subject. There are no computer science courses in some states. In others, no students take advanced placement computer science, and in others no females or minorities take the subject. The challenge is being met by “up-training” mathematics and basic science instructors to teach computer science. (Computer science is seen as a subset of mathematics.) Two-week summer university courses supplemented by year-long weekend learning and on-line courses will gradually prepare a teacher to teach computer science and then, to teach code. Google and Dell have provided grants to train teachers in schools without computer science classes.
Some people question the need for all students to learn to code, saying unless one plans to be a programmer, the skill is unnecessary. Solutions to problems can be found online with a Google search. Yet, coding advocates remind us, computer science and coding teach how to analyze and solve problems. Because we live in a digital age, understanding the devices and apps so essential and common in our lives is helpful. In the 21st century, a general education that includes mathematics, science, history, literature, and art should also include at least a basic knowledge of computer science and code.#