K-12 Computer Science endorsement continues to evolve at NWC

Posted 8/9/22

Northwest College this year will produce its third cohort — a group of students moving through a program together at the same time —  to graduate from its K-12 Computer Science …

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K-12 Computer Science endorsement continues to evolve at NWC

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Northwest College this year will produce its third cohort — a group of students moving through a program together at the same time —  to graduate from its K-12 Computer Science endorsement program.  According to instructor Astrid Northrup, the program is going well — and getting better. 

Last month, the teachers in the program were learning to use drones in the classroom, and the lab included a dozen small and medium drones.

In 2018, the Wyoming Legislature passed a bill that mandated that computer science and computational thinking skills be taught across all grade levels in K-12 classrooms. The Wyoming Department of Education accepted computer science standards, and the community colleges in the state — including Northwest College — began offering endorsement programs for teachers who want to teach computer science. 

Prior to those standards being set and taught, there really wasn’t any consistency in computer science education. Providing these endorsements allowed the state to implement the computer science curriculum using existing teachers. 

“I think they were wise not to just have computer scientists teach it,” Northrup said. 

At NWC, Northrup and three colleagues — NWC English professor Renee Dechert, NWC math and engineering instructor Raymond Floyd and Andrea Burrows, a professor and associate dean at the University of Wyoming’s College of Education — developed a white paper called “Coding is the New Coal,” which outlines the process for developing a curriculum that would provide an endorsement needed for K-12 educators to teach computer science with consistent standards. 

The endorsement program includes courses in structured programming, application development, social media, and robotics. 

The NWC program has been refined over the course of three cohorts, Northrup said, based on the feedback they get from the teachers in the program. 

Northrup said that, unlike undergraduate students who aren’t always thinking specifically about how they’ll be using what they learn down the road, the teachers in the K-12 computer science endorsement program are thinking about that. So the instructors of the program get very specific feedback on what works and what doesn’t. The program continues to evolve with each cohort as the instructors try to pinpoint the best approaches. 

“It’s like a heat-seeking missile,” Northrup said. 

The state standards did give the colleges some room for how they wanted to design their programs. So, the NWC 15-credit hour program is about half computer science knowledge, while the remainder is application of those concepts in the classroom. Other colleges have different mixes of concepts and application classes. The NWC program also switched from assembly program language to python, based on the feedback from the students in the program. 

Leon Miller, a teacher at Park 1 Virtual Academy, was among the K-12 teachers in the third cohort. He said the program provides useful tools for him to use in his classroom. 

The social media course, Miller explained, will help him teach students how to use social media and be aware of the impacts of what they share with the world. 

Miller said the coding has a lot of practical applications. Using what he learned about coding, Miller’s son, Onyx, adds his own content to the games he plays. 

Northrup said the program is also helping the college make more connections to K-12 education. Whereas the college has always pursued collaboration with the University of Wyoming, enhancing its partnerships with K-12 is the next step. 

Northrup estimates there are about 25 to 30 teachers in Wyoming with the endorsement.

Northwest College

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