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Wisconsin elevates computer science education, careers in its schools

In an interview with EdScoop TV, Mertes discusses efforts in Wisconsin to integrate computer science into the curriculum.

EdScoop Staff
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Wisconsin has joined a handful of other states in elevating and emphasizing the importance of computer science education and coding skills among students.

Earlier this year, it became the ninth state to adopt computer science standards. Since then, there’s been a concerted effort from state agencies, partner organizations and school districts to integrate coding into the curriculum, according to Janice Mertes, assistant director for instructional media and technology at the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction.

Already, education technology leaders have seen momentum building around computer science, Mertes says in a recent interview with EdScoop TV. Many Wisconsin schools, for example, participate in Hour of Code, a tutorial from Code.org and Minecraft that has generated over 70 million free coding sessions across the globe since it launched two years ago.

The schools are eager to find new and deeply rooted approaches to blend computer science into their lessons, Mertes says.

Part of the challenge, of course, is ensuring that each district is equipped with instructors who are qualified and trained to teach computer science. It’s something other states, including Utah, are grappling with as they invest in what is a relatively young field.

Mertes says her department has begun to realize their educators don’t necessarily need a computer science degree to be able to teach computer science. There are plenty of alternatives now, through professional development and certificate programs.

“The amount of resources coming out to support students and teachers in this work really is going to help us,” Mertes says, adding that the goal is to make students aware of and interested in careers in the field from an early age.

“The data shows us that if students aren’t aware of these opportunities by middle school, it’s really maybe not on their radar by high school,” she says. “So there’s a lot of interest in our state around pathways, whether it’s IT, cybersecurity, computer science as a whole ... to help foster those skills.”

The key to success in this, Mertes says, is getting help from groups and institutions that share the state’s mission around computer science. “The state department can’t do it alone,” she says.

In Wisconsin, Marquette University is taking on the state’s partnership with Code.org, and they’re leaning on the University of Wisconsin in Madison and several technical schools to provide computer science assistance as well.

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