Nov 01 2022

70 Percent of Students at This Texas School Are Choosing CTE Electives

The top 20 most in-demand skills required by U.S. organizations are all computer science–based, so how can schools encourage more students to select career and technical education?

Too often, teachers are expected to provide social services or childcare when, ultimately, their key objective is to convey knowledge to prepare each student for the future. How can teachers prepare students when career and technical education remains an elective in most districts, despite organizations across the U.S. demanding computer science–based skills?

Globally, industries continue to voice concern over the lack of tech skills among high school and college graduates. According to a survey by Manpower, an estimated 1.4 million computer science jobs remained unfilled at the end of 2020.

Yet, data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics shows careers common among computer science degree holders frequently lead to six-figure salaries. With the right skills, students can walk out of school and into a highly lucrative career.

However, too many students across the U.S. never consider computer science careers, simply because they did not elect to have an early experience with coding. Coding remains a subject that fewer than half of high schools teach, and only 5 percent of students continue their computer science education beyond high school.

Specific fields deemed crucial to future economic growth include data analysis, artificial intelligence and cybersecurity. However, many students fail to realize that computer science can also lead to careers in fields as varied as fashion, automotive design, music journalism and sports analysis.

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Building a CTE Program with Early Lessons in Coding for Students

Humble ISD launched an initiative to help more students realize how enthralling computer science can be.

We started by broadening our study options, creating 170 different CTE courses ranging from cosmetology and cybersecurity to automotive and robotics. We believe that if we offer a wide array of opportunities, it’s more likely that students will elect to embark on a learning pathway that allows them to develop a deep understanding of an area of CTE.

The next step was to introduce this in the early years.

In most elementary grades, coding lessons start with game development, an ideal way to introduce students to computer science. Scratch, a block-based programming platform, gives young students an easy, visual entry into developing games. However, we noticed that the block-based programming model doesn’t develop with students as they progress through the elementary and early middle school years, leading many to drop out of coding.

Keeping Students in CTE Through High School

We considered transitioning students to text-based programming languages such as JavaScript as they got older, but this was too complex and daunting for middle school students and resulted in more of them dropping out of CTE. So we decided to use Construct 3 game making software, which allows students to mix and match components of block- and text-based programming in the same project.

KEEP READING: This K–12 IT influencer shares how he blends coding lessons with culture.

As they progress through middle school, Humble ISD students slowly transition from block- to text-based programming. This scaffolds the learning, helping students appreciate the real-world applications of coding. It also ensures a basic understanding of computer science fundamentals by the time they reach high school.

The move from block- to text-based programming is an ideal steppingstone for students who may eventually seek careers working with JavaScript or Unity.

Overcoming Barriers to Teaching Computer Science in K–12 Classes

Another factor restricting the number of students electing CTE was that too few teachers were confident enough to teach it, especially without a defined curriculum.

To change this, we started using the GAME:IT curriculum, which allows teachers and students to dive in and start creating games aligned to the curriculum.

“I hadn’t done programming since I graduated in 2005, so I was worried that I’d be learning it at the same time as the kids,” says Sydnie Grizzaffi, an educator at Atascocita Middle School. “However, we all worked on it together and learned a lot more. Even teachers who are completely new to programming pick it up within a couple of weeks.”

Sydnie Grizzaffi
Even teachers who are completely new to programming pick it up within a couple of weeks.”

Sydnie Grizzaffi Educator, Atascocita Middle School

Another challenge facing schools is finding time to teach coding. It can be hard to fit a high-quality education of the core curriculum subjects into each day, even before adding lessons in coding. But given that two of the most important skills a student needs when they enter global society are problem-solving and critical thinking — skills that are developed in learning computer science — we were able to apply a cross-curricular approach to coding at Humble ISD.

Through a wider variety of classes, confident teachers and an effective curriculum with development software that grows with our students, we now have more than 70 percent of students electing to study CTE. Every semester an increasing number of students elect to take one of our CTE courses, and more stay on to expand their learning.

UP NEXT: Schools are working to reduce the STEM divide for Black students.

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