RCU develops statewide computer science program

MSU Research and Curriculum Unit project Manager Shelly Hollis, far end, standing, guides Overstreet Elementary students through coding activities in an Hour of Code event earlier this month. The RCU has created a pilot computer science program for the Mississippi Department of Education titled CS4MS with a goal of having the program in all Mississippi public schools by 2024. (Submitted photo)
Staff Writer

With the Help of the Mississippi State University Research and Curriculum Unit, the Mississippi Department of Education has devised a program to teach computer science in Mississippi schools.

So far, 52 school districts across the state have become a part of the CS4MS pilot program in its two years of existence. The program teaches computer science to students across all levels. The Starkville-Oktibbeha Consolidated School District is one of the participants, as well as Columbus Municipal Schools and the Lowndes County School District. The MDE hopes to have the program in all Mississippi public schools by 2014.

“The purpose of the pilot is to find out what works, so that as MDE gets ready to roll this out at every grade level across the state, they’ll have some real data about what worked and what didn’t work” said project manager Shelly Hollis.

The CS4MS program has a few components, including teacher training, curriculum for students appropriate to age and grade and hosting hour of code events at schools across the state, where students spend an hour learning basic coding through games and other activities. The program also seeks to engage female and minority students who are underrepresented in the computer science field.

“It’s been very well received,” Hollis said. “The students have been able to take it and excel with it. Initially the teachers are a little uncomfortable because it’s something new , but by mid-year, they’re reporting back that they’re doing great, and they’re really enjoying it.”

Students at the elementary level complete between 20 and 40 hours of computer science through the school year, with lessons in four areas, digital citizenship, coding, robotics and keyboarding.

Formal keyboard instruction is continued into the middle school years, with training on various applications added. Formal coding and basic app development are also introduced.

High school students in the program take a course called “exploring computer science,” a survey-based computer science course.

“The ide here is we want to get them a abroad range of exposure to computer science, so that they understand that it’s not all about coding, and that there’s more to computer science than just programming.”

An AP computer science course will also be offered in the coming year.

Several licensure paths are also being developed to fill the need for computer science instructors in schools.

“We have been developing multiple pathways, because we need to get teachers licensed as quickly as possible to make this scalable across our state,” said project manager Lois Kappler.

Mississippi Gov. Phil Bryant also officially declared December to be Mississippi Computer Science Education Month.

“All the materials we’re using, we’re really trying to hit hard on problem solving and critical thinking skills, because that’s not only the foundation for computer science, but it’s foundational for many other subjects, as well," Hollis said.