Educators work to expand computer science learning in Alabama's schools

Published: Nov. 2, 2017 at 1:08 PM CDT|Updated: Nov. 2, 2017 at 3:19 PM CDT
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TUSCALOOSA, AL (WBRC) - At a time when Governor Kay Ivey has put special attention on expanding computer science opportunities for Alabama's students, a group of educators is also working to make this happen. In fact, one of them describes computer science education as a "family tree changer" for students.

A group of computer science teachers recently wrapped up the 2017 Alabama Teachers Computer Science Summit at The University of Alabama. The summit provided training to the teachers on bringing a new Advanced Placement computer science course into classrooms.

Carol Yarbrough, a Computer Science Instructor at the Alabama School of Fine Arts, began teaching computer science ten years ago, following a career as a programmer. At the time, Yarbrough says computer science education was available in three Alabama schools. Today, that number is at 130, and advocates like Yarbrough want to see that number grow more.

"I just love it," Yarbrough said. "It is the most fun thing to teach." Yarbrough said one of her favorite aspects of teaching computer science is seeing how gratified students are when they find the solution to a difficult problem.

"They literally jump out of their chair and say, 'I fixed it, it works!' It's so rewarding as a teacher, but also we know that those are the skills that are going to help those students in the future."

Statistics from show computer science-related jobs are growing at twice the rate of all other jobs. University of Alabama Computer Science Professor Jeff Gray, who co-coordinated the teacher summit, said even if students do not pursue a computer science career, the principles apply to many other fields. But Gray also said the teachers he works with have countless success stories of students who do find a future in computer science. For some, the implications can be far-reaching.

"We often say that this can be a 'family tree changer,'" Gray said.

"We have students from rural Alabama, inner-city Birmingham, who are learning about these opportunities."

"The joy of computing that they discover is pushing them into careers, occupations, taking them down paths of life that they never even considered before."

University of California, Berkeley Professor Dan Garcia was part of the teacher summit at UA, and echoed Gray's thoughts on the power of computer science education.

"Graduation day is the happiest day of my life, when I see all of the people who took my course four years ago, and got hooked on it," Garcia said.

"They can do anything. Every single industry is being affected by data."

Garcia also praised efforts of computer science teachers and advocates across the country, including Alabama, for their work to expand computer science education.

In Alabama, Governor Kay Ivey's recently-formed Advisory Council for Computer Science Education will prioritize computer science opportunities and courses for students, as well as focusing on teacher professional development.

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