On December 4, 2017, students came to the Texas State Capitol for the first Hour of Code held on the floor of the Texas House of Representatives. Students from Richardson, San Antonio, Austin, Pflugerville, Spring Branch, Leander, Hays County, and Lufkin came to the Capitol to demonstrate the different ways students gain coding experience in their elementary, middle, and high schools. They also came to teach state legislators and their staff members how to write their first line of code.
The Hour of Code is a national effort to help demystify computer coding and broaden participation in the field of computer science. The official Hour of Code takes place each year during Computer Science Education Week, which is held December 4-10. The Hour of Code at the Capitol was hosted by the University of Texas at Austin’s WeTeach CS project, TCEA, TechNet, and CS4TX to help promote the need for more support for computer science education in Texas schools.
Hands On Coding
The legislators and their staff had great fun learning how to program a robot from Pflugerville ISD middle school students and listened to some San Antonio elementary students read a story they wrote, as their pre-programmed robots acted out the plot line. In fact, there were a variety of different robots roaming about the floor of the chamber, including: Lego, Sphero, Dot and Dash, Makeblock, Mircobits, and Ozobots. One of the participant’s favorite activities was test driving the code written for a virtual reality experience by the Richardson ISD high school students.
Several teachers who brought students to the event had recently participated in the University of Texas’ We Teach CS program which is aimed at assisting inservice teachers in obtaining a computer science teaching certification. These teachers currently teach science, view computer science as a natural complement to their curriculum, and are looking for ways to help students learn to code as they learn science.
Exploring the Job Market
The students also got to hear what it takes to work at Facebook, Google, and Uber. Representatives from these companies spoke to the students over pizza and soft drinks. They highlighted the benefits of working in the tech industry and what it takes to land a job at one of these three companies. It won’t be long before these students will be polishing their resumes and knocking on their doors. The likelihood of these students getting jobs is strong since there are currently over 40,000 unfilled high-tech jobs in Texas. And yet, only 3 percent of high school students took a computer science course last school year.
Strategies to Increase Enrollment in CS
This is why this day was so important. Educating policy makers on the benefits of computer science is critical to enacting policies that can effectively change the dismal statistics. Some of the strategies to increase the opportunities for students to gain computer science skills are:
- Develop a comprehensive plan to expand K-12 computer science education statewide.
- Incentivize school districts to offer computer science courses. Computer science and technology applications courses should be placed under the umbrella of Career and Technical Education (CTE) to unlock weighted funding through the CTE allotment.
- Invest in professional development programs to train a corps of teachers to lead these courses. The key to this effort will be providing additional funding for computer science certification grant programs.
For more information about hosting an Hour of Code at your school or district (or city hall, county court house, etc.), check out this blog post. You can host an Hour of Code anytime. Happy coding!