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To train astronauts for space missions, William Young simulates the lunar surface and microgravity conditions, preparing astronauts to eventually work in the International Space Station or potentially to return to the moon.

As a simulation software engineer at NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Texas, Young says his computer science skills help him break down large concepts into smaller parts,  allowing him to get an in-depth understanding of what he’s working on and to think differently as he seeks new ways to improve a project.

Listen to NASA Engineer William Young discuss how computer science has helped his career:

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Having computer science skills led to his job at NASA’s virtual reality training lab, but Young says the subject wasn’t part of his engineering degree. Instead, he first learned about computer science through out-of-school time. 

“Those extracurriculars were really good for starting to develop my computer science skills,” he says, adding that in graduate school he further developed those skills to demonstrate in his thesis how to apply computer science to aerospace.

Young’s career path underscores that many students learn about computer science through out-of-school time, and how computer science skills are permeating into other industries and fields.

“Computer science is preparing students for jobs that don’t even exist yet,” says Eva Giglio, executive director, CME Group Foundation.

Challenges for Computer Science in the Classroom

Expanding computer science education is an investment in students’ futures, but there are several challenges to making it happen. A national teacher shortage means there are fewer teachers, and even fewer with the right qualifications, available to support CS education. Even if the ranks of teaching professionals grow, school budgets are limited to how many dedicated computer science faculty they can hire.

To meet this challenge, corporations, nonprofits and schools are beginning to collaborate and think creatively about the best ways to support educators to eventually integrate computer science skills into many subject matters. These stakeholders are also considering how to ensure educational equity so that students from all backgrounds and abilities have access to learn computer science skills.

The CME Group Foundation recently hosted a conference with these stakeholders to address these challenges.

"Computer science is preparing students for jobs that don’t even exist yet."

— Eva Giglio, Executive Director, CME Group Foundation

Increasing Computer Science Courses in School

Nationally, there is momentum for more kids gaining exposure to  computer science (CS). According to a new report on the state of computer science education commissioned by the CME Group Foundation, funding is increasing and state-level policy is taking shape. More than $65 million was allocated for CS education across all states for fiscal year 2022, more than any other previous year. While all 50 states and Washington, DC, have adopted policies to allow CS classes to count towards graduation, few require CS classes to be taken, something many see as an opportunity for the future.  

Students also appear interested in learning these skills after they’ve been exposed to them. Giglio noted a recent Gallup poll on nationwide Gen Z perspectives on science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) education and careers found that these students were more likely to pursue STEM careers if they are exposed to those types of courses. 

She noted similar success on a local level in Chicago where the CME Group Foundation invests in out-of-school time computer science programs in underserved areas. Of the students engaged in these programs, 90% increased proficiency in computer science or STEM, 83% increased self-confidence in computer science, and 70% of students who took the programming are interested in STEM careers. 

The CME Group Foundation began funding K-12 computer science initiatives in 2015. Since then, the Foundation has awarded a total of $5.4 million in grants to 36 different grantees, including Chicago Public Schools’ Computer Science for All initiative. 

Kris Beck, director of computer science in Chicago Public Schools (CPS), says their goal is to have computer science available for everyone, including students in middle school and those with disabilities. 

Many of the policy efforts to educate students in computer science focus on introducing the topic in high school. However, Todd Lash, director of computer science teacher education at University of Illinois at Chicago, says the subject matter should be introduced to younger students, such as those in kindergarten to eighth grade, to provide equitable access. 

"Good teaching practices will apply to computer science. We want to train every teacher to be comfortable with the tools of computer science."

— Kris Beck, Director of Computer Science in Chicago Public Schools

Exposing students to computer science at a younger age can be particularly beneficial. NASA’s Young explains children can pick up coding easier since it has different languages, much like how children are better at learning spoken languages if learned at an early age.

Tech Industry Involvement

Corporations, foundations and educators may be eager to collaborate to find creative ways to integrate computer science in students’ lives, says Sana Jafri, executive director, Chicago Learning Exchange. She explains that part of the process will be learning how to work together, since tackling these challenges is new for everyone involved.

Out-of-school providers will continue to play a significant role raising awareness and involving more students in computer science, she says, pointing to successful efforts from organizations such as Code Nation, Microsoft and Google who work with educators. 

Daniel Rosenstein, philanthropy lead at Computer Science Teachers Association, noted these industry partnerships are critical as industry professionals can partner with teachers to keep them up-to-date as skills evolve. The advent of artificial intelligence shows how quickly technology is evolving and the need for collaboration, he added.

Jafri says she appreciates the interest from the tech community to work directly with students; however, she notes that this type of volunteering is a fine balance since it uses both hard and soft skills.

She has consulted with Google’s Education Department and says in her experience, it’s better if volunteers coach teachers to learn tech skills, rather than working directly with students. Most people in the tech sector don’t have the educational and pedagogy background to translate their knowledge to younger people.

“It's not what they were trained to do,” she says. 

Beck says teachers don’t need to be experts in computer science, but they will need support, including access to high-quality professional learning so they can figure out how to embed computer science curriculum across courses so it’s not kept siloed to certain departments like math or science.

“Good teaching practices will apply to computer science. We want to train every teacher to be comfortable with the tools of computer science,” she says.

She says CPS’s long-term goal is for students to use computer-science skills authentically, which may lead to solving problems out of school.

Teacher Training

One way to support teachers is through pre-licensure college programs, Lash says. The university recently started a teacher endorsement in computer-science program which allows them to gain core skills and how to apply those skills into the different classrooms. The goal is to bring in teachers with diverse backgrounds, as well as those from both urban and rural areas.

“We need help with getting more teachers in and making sure the teachers look like the kids,” Lash says.

In that vein, Rosenstein says collaborators need to explore ways to financially support teachers with paid training opportunities outside of the school year, such as externships.

“We need to think about how we are providing more of those opportunities so teachers are feeling skilled and confident,” he says.




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