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Cracking the code: metro students learn to program

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Kyle Geary — The Hale Center For Journalism

Computer science is a growing field. In fact, according to Code.org, it is growing so fast that the number of jobs available outnumbers the total number of computer science students in the country.

Computer science is the study of computation theory and design. Simply put, computer science is the study of how computers work. This field also includes computer programming, where digital languages like Java, C++ and HTML are used to create everything from websites like Facebook to mobile apps like Candy Crush. Despite this, only 10 percent of high schools offer any programming classes according to a report from Code.org. This begs the question — should coding be taught in more schools, and, if so, should it be regarded like any other foreign language?

Mike Wilson is the president of Ingenology, an idea accelerator in Kansas City, Mo. He believes that computer science education should be more prevalent in schools.

“It needs to be treated much more like a traditional setting, much more like foreign language,” Wilson said. “It needs to be formalized, put in the classroom and put standards against it.”

On both sides of the state line, there are schools with options for computer programming education. Angie Klein is a business and computer teacher at Liberty High School in Missouri. She teaches multiple courses on computer programming languages ranging from beginner to advanced levels. Klein believes that there is a lot of room for improvement within computer science education.

“There isn’t any certification for teachers in the field of computer science,” Klein said. “I’m certified in business. Some schools will use people who are certified in math. You can be certified in absolutely anything to teach a computer class.”

According to a report from the Computer Science Teachers Association, there are 20 states, including Kansas and Missouri, that do not offer any computer science endorsements for teachers.

At Olathe South High School in Kansas, Tim Shipley teaches computer programming classes. He believes that despite the field that a student leans toward, any knowledge of computer programming would be beneficial.

“I can’t think of anything that a student can do that wouldn’t benefit from some knowledge of computer programming,” he said.

Both instructors use software that makes coding easier for their students. One of the programs, Alice, allows users to drag and drop commands, rather than typing everything. This cuts down on errors and helps students focus on how code works, rather than code grammar.

Computer science education has recently gained attention from organizations outside of the classroom. Code.org and Codecademy both offer free introductory lessons for users to learn the basics of computer programming languages. Code.org also hosts the annual Hour Of Code, which challenges instructors, students and others to spend at least one hour learning how to code.

Despite the hurdles that computer science education faces, Wilson believes that students can learn to code with all of the resources available both in schools and online.

“Right now, if you are in high school and you start programming, there is a wealth of opportunity for you,” Wilson said. “There’s more jobs than there are people.”

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