From Four Core, To One More

 |   Maureen LaRaviere (AP) & Brenda Remess (ECS & CSP Teacher)

As part of our mission in bridging the opportunity divide, Microsoft Chicago places an emphasis on promoting computer science education for all. Part of that mission is driven by Microsoft’s global partnership with Code.org, promoting coding for all who are interested. You’ll remember that in December 2014, we featured several guest blogs from CPS teachers who are leaders in the STEM/STEAM movement, especially in motivating their students to consider careers in STEM. To celebrate Computer Science Education Week and the Hour of Code, Microsoft had the privilege of attending an awards ceremony at Mather High School. The teachers, faculty and students of Mather were honored by Code.org with a $10,000.00 check for their leadership in learning to code and their processes around coding and STEM. The following discussion by the Assistant Principal and CS Teacher at Mather provide important insights into what it takes to embed the focus on STEM into the educational methodology, thereby accelerating student success.  

— Shelley Stern Grach

Photo by Brooke Collins / City of Chicago

The high school setting has traditionally been the place where students take their “core” courses and have a sampling of “electives” in the hopes that students will be prepared for a four-year university setting. Those courses associated with “core” have been English, Social Sciences, Math and Science, whereas electives have been generally offered through fine arts, Social Science courses, and AP classes.

However, the U.S. competitiveness and growth is in need of more people with the necessary technology skills to meet the demands of employers. Therefore, we want to make sure every student at Mather has the opportunity to take a computer science class in order to understand and interact with the technological world.

For the majority of teenagers, the dependency on their cell phone, access to social media, and digital usage through various formats is what is at the “core” for them. Acknowledging that not only that teenagers need to interact with technology, they have to understand how to produce it—through sequencing, programming and coding.

Photo by Brooke Collins / City of Chicago

At Mather High School, the culture of computer science has changed rapidly in the past four years. The Information Technology Academy has filled all 120 available seats, with our first graduating class this year. In addition, the teachers and students are piloting the Computer Science Principles (CSP) course this year for the eventual offering of AP CSP. However, with only 120 available spots for IT Academy students, Mather does not want to exclude any student from taking a computer course. The goal is to integrate Exploring Computer Science (ECS) as a “core” course and expect that students take the course before graduation The ECS course and the CSP course not only expose students to coding, programming, and computer basics, but invaluable soft skills such as team work, interacting with others, and scaffolding thought processes.

One way in which to promote computer science for ALL students is through the Hour of Code. Mather has participated in the Hour of Code for two years—setting our goal of at least 1,200 students coding during the HOC week. Students demonstrate how to code not only to other students, but to teachers and other staff members. Since computer science can be an intimidating subject, our goal is to connect meaning to the technologies that students use in their everyday lives, such as their cellphones, mobile apps, and video gaming that embed computer basics, team work, critical thinking, and programming.

We are proud to take on the challenge of preparing our students with the innovation and technology leadership that our country and the rest of the world needs. Mather will make sure that the issues of equity and access to computer classes are well balanced in our school; thus, we believe it is imperative to add one more, to the four core.

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