The K-12 Computer Science Framework is a “response to the history of inequity in computer science,” said Pat Yongpradit, the chief academic officer at Code.org, one of the organizations steering the initiative.
People had different motivations for participating. Some wanted to make sure their states have a strong pipeline of workers to fill local tech jobs. Others think basic coding is up there with reading and writing as a skillset that 21st-century American students need to possess. And still others hope that creating a framework will help roll back the mindset that computer science is for a select few, and begin to diversify what is a largely white, male space.
Yongpradit sees computer science as “a literacy for the modern age.” Right now, many people use dating apps with no idea how the algorithm that could literally help them meet their future spouse works, he pointed out. It’s hard to understand what all the talk around Hillary Clinton’s emails means without a basic understanding of a server, he added. Equipping young people with a fundamental understanding of computer science will provide them with a “richer experience as a citizen in this modern age,” he said.
According to the groups involved, this is the first time that people from across the computer-science spectrum have come together for such a broad task. Perhaps contrary to other disciplines where teachers aren’t exactly clamoring for someone to tell them how and what to teach, most educators don’t have a background in computer science, and states and districts seem to be welcoming the input.
Mark Saunders is the director of the Office of Technology and Virtual Learning at the Virginia Department of Education, one of just a handful of states actively working to develop K-12 computer-science standards. The state plans to use the framework as the basis for its own standards.
“It’s bigger than just preparing students for potential jobs,” Saunders said. “At the core of computer science is computational thinking, and, to me, computational thinking and that algorithmic process is a key skill that every student should have, that they can use in a lot of different professions and in everyday life.”
And the framework will help the state’s teachers, particularly at the elementary level, where computer science will likely be integrated into the day and not framed as a pull-out class, think through how to teach concepts.
Most of those concepts don’t even require a computer to learn at the early stages, said Rebecca Dovi, the director of education at the Virginia nonprofit CodeVA, which works with teachers and students to improve computer-science education. At a recent camp, Dovi, whose group reviewed the framework, said, her team worked the programming concept of a loop—which essentially hinges on repetition—into a cheer routine a group of young girls was planning for fun. On a piece of paper, the girls drew symbols to describe different movements. Two lines for a clap. A dot for a foot stomp. Then, they learned that they could use those symbols to describe the routine on paper. “That’s very, very algorithmic,” Dovi said, “but not necessarily needing to be on a computer.”