7 Ways to Get Students Interested in Computer Science

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Computer science is too often defined by what it’s not. Students, teachers, and administrators frequently characterize computer science as a discipline dominated by people who stare at screens, mindlessly inputting reams of arcane code, or geniuses who thwart bank heists and assassinations. Others believe that mastering office applications or producing a webpage form the core of computer science education.computer science computer science computer science computer science computer science computer science computer science computer science computer science

In reality, students in my class learn to develop computational thinking skills. Using a computer to solve real-world problems does indeed require becoming familiar with acronyms, mastering some basic algorithms, and writing commands in Python, Javascript, or other languages. However, the most critical skills that students will be expected to master involve collaboration, presentation, and knowing how to break a task down into its essential steps.

By approaching computer science as a flexible tool that is vital in many disciplines, students will appreciate how learning to program can benefit them in whatever career path they chose. Teachers in all content areas can also see the value in integrating computer science principles in their practice.

Here are seven tricks for getting students to enroll in computer science classes—or engage them in computational thinking in your own classroom.

1) Robot Invasion

I often take my Sphero robot to classrooms to talk about computer science. Easily programmable, Sphero features a kaleidoscope of lights and makes for a very impressive entrance. I arrange my visits with teachers in advance so that I do not disturb their normal activities. Sphero’s simple-to-use interface allows a student volunteer (and there are always several!) to make it obey their commands with a minimal amount of instruction.

While my entrance may seem unscripted, I always tailor my pitch to the audience. For example, in an anatomy and physiology class, I stress how robots are used for surgery or training doctors and paramedics. In a shop class, I can talk about how lathes and milling machines are increasingly relying on computer automation for greater speed and complex manufacturing.

2) Hour of Code

Computer Science Education Week is this week, December 7-13, 2015. This annual, worldwide event seeks to expose students to the basic steps in writing a computer program. Developed by Code.org, Hour of Code requires no special training or installation of software. Virtually any computer with a web browser is suitable.

If you feel ambitious, numerous other tutorials are available to expand upon the lessons in the Hour of Code. Even if you’re not a computer science teacher, every one of your students can benefit from learning how to code. Coding teaches logical thinking skills, while programming encourages collaboration as students share and refine their code. Computer science permeates virtually every career to some degree—why not get students comfortable with it now?

Head over to Computer Science Education Week or Code Studio to get started. Not only can you try the software yourself, there is a great collection of videos for introducing programming to your students and fellow teachers. Various versions of the Hour of Code can be used. Last year introduced tasks based on characters from the movie Frozen. This year, Star Wars is featured.

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