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Duluth elementary, middle school educators engage in computer science

CS4DLH was developed to increase awareness of the need for students to learn computer science and computational thinking.

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Chris Valento, an art specialist at Duluth Public Schools, works at the color image representation puzzle station during the CS4DLH launch event Tuesday, Dec. 7, 2021, at the College of St. Scholastica. Adelle Whitefoot / Duluth News Tribune
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About 70 educators from Duluth spent Tuesday night learning about ways to incorporate computer science into their classrooms as part of the launch of CS4DLH (Computer Science for Duluth).

CS4DLH was developed to increase awareness of the need for students to learn computer science and computational thinking and to provide professional development in line with Minnesota’s K-12 standards.

The state is working to incorporate computer science in every subject as part of a review of its standards. Art and science standards were most recently reviewed. New standards will be implemented in 2023-24 and 2024-25, respectively.

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Special education teacher Tom Albright works on a cut block puzzle during the CS4DLH event at the College of St. Scholastica Tuesday, Dec. 7, 2021. Adelle Whitefoot / Duluth News Tribune

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As a way to get more educators excited about computer science, the National Center for Computer Science Education at the College of St. Scholastica, the city of Duluth and Infosys Foundation USA partnered to host a learning event Tuesday night. Educators listened to a presentation by Sarah Carter, a STEM and computer science specialist at the Minnesota Department of Education, before hands-on engagement at computer science stations.

The stations allowed educators to try programs and hands-on technology, as well as some “unplugged” options that could be used in the classroom and that include the cost of a subscription or the need for a computer.

Some of the technology stations included a Sphero , a coding robot shaped like a ball; Makey-Makey , a circuit board and wires kit that allows people to play games, create music and other things; and Scratch , an online coding program for kids.

The unplugged stations included cut block puzzles, tangrams, color image representation puzzles and more.

“We just want to show educators that computer science is fun and they can do it,” said Jen Rosato, director of National Center for Computer Science Education and assistant professor at the St. Scholastica.

And fun they had. The comments from educators were positive.

“This is a great event for teachers to think about how to incorporate computer science into all of the studies,” said Tom Albright, a special education teacher at Myers-Wilkins Elementary School.

Chris Valento, an art specialist at Duluth Public Schools, was working at the color image representation puzzle station when she said: “I could see kids really getting into this.”

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The color image representation puzzle is a grid that gives directions on what square in each row should be to create a picture. This puzzle is just one way computer science and computational thinking were represented during the CS4DLH event Tuesday, Dec. 7, 2021, at the College of St. Scholastica. Adelle Whitefoot / Duluth News Tribune

The puzzle was a grid that gives directions on what square in each row should be used to create a picture. Valento’s puzzle ended up being a flower.

Valento said she was excited to find ways where kids could unplug from a computer and be hands-on, but still be able to incorporate computer science.

“Having an opportunity to delve in and look at what we could do (to incorporate computer science) is a great start for something,” said Shane Johnson, dean of students at Duluth Public Schools. “Now it just takes teacher initiative to see it through.”

Duluth Mayor Emily Larson said she was in a Minnesota Mayors Together meeting where they were discussing broadband and connectivity. That meeting was also attended by New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman, who connected Larson to Infosys, which connected Larson to Rosato, who said “absolutely."

“We don’t want our students here to miss out on the opportunity for computer science,” Rosato said. “So we're happy to help out.”

According to the 2021 State of Computer Science Education report, Minnesota is last in the U.S. for offering computer science courses, with only 24% of high schools teaching foundational computer science. The report was conducted by Code.org Advocacy Coalition, Computer Science Teachers Association and the Expanding Computing Education Pathways Alliance, with information from state departments of education, including Minnesota.

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There is also a disparity in the student population and those who are enrolled in computer science courses in Minnesota. The state's student population is 51% female, but only 23% of females are in AP computer science classes. There is also a disparity in race, Carter said.

“Ideally, we would like the student population to be accurately reflected in those in computer science,” she said.

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Duluth educators learn how to use Sphero, a robot ball that can be coded using an app on a device, during the CS4DLH event at the College of St. Scholastica on Tuesday, Dec. 7, 2021. Adelle Whitefoot / Duluth News Tribune

Rosato said they invited elementary and middle school educators to the event to help introduce computer science at a young age.

“Research has shown that girls and other students are turned off by computer science, sometimes even before they get to middle school,” Rosato said. “So they really need that early exposure to counteract the stereotypes about what computer science is and what it means to be a computer scientist.”

CS4DLH will launch website soon to keep educators and residents updated, as well as to connect Duluth Public Schools educators to resources for teaching computer science.

Adelle Whitefoot is a former reporter for the Duluth News Tribune.
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