Shelly Hollis, program manager with MSU's Research and Curriculum Unit, works with Starkville-Oktibbeha Consolidated School District students during an Hour of Code event. The event is part of a recent emphasis being placed on computer science and coding in public education. Photo by: Courtesy photo
June 1, 2018 10:33:07 AM
A $35,000 grant from Google will help Mississippi State University's Research and Curriculum Unit offer training for up to 70 more local computer science teachers this summer.
The RCU recently announced the grant through a press release. The department is working with the Mississippi Department of Education's Computer Science for Mississippi (CS4MS) initiative, which aims to establish a pipeline of computer science curriculum and instructors to all schools by 2024.
Shelly Hollis, the RCU's program manager for its work with the CS4MS initiative, said the funding from Google will help cover the costs of training more middle school computer science teachers ahead of the 2018-19 school year.
The RCU, according to the release, was previously set to provide professional development to about 60 teachers, or two cohorts, through a university partnership with Code.org.
"We have right at 150 teachers going through training this summer," Hollis said. "We had about 70 teachers we needed help covering the costs for.
"The Mississippi Department of Education covers large parts of this training," she added. "We're just helping to offset that."
Google's annual grant program provides localized professional development to computer science teachers. According to the press release, more than 40,000 teachers worldwide have participated in the grant program, with an impact on more than 1 million students.
Hollis said the RCU will hold training in Starkville, De Soto County and Rankin County.
The CS4MS is part of a recent push to improve computer science and coding education in Mississippi.
"Computer science is part of every career path you can think of," she said. "Even if you're a stay-at-home mom, you'll be exposed to it in the way you shop, or even the way you control your home. Making society more aware of the importance of computer science is the ultimate goal of the initiative.
"What that looks like, practically, is getting computer science courses in the school, either incorporated in the elementary level and standalone at the middle and high school levels," she added.
About 75 school districts have participated in the three-year CS4MS pilot program, according to the press release, and new computer science standards will be in place for the approaching school year. Once the summer's training sessions are complete, more than 800 teachers will have received training through the CS4MS program, and approximately 700 more are expected to receive professional development in computer science in the next three years.
The Starkville-Oktibbeha Consolidated School District is one of the districts that is participating in the CS4MS program, and Hollis said the district has teachers participating in the summer training program. The district also participated in a computer science-focused "Hour of Code" event, where students worked with RCU professionals on coding-focused learning.
SOCSD's Assistant Superintendent of Elementary Curriculum and Instruction Christy Maulding said the district believes it's important to expose students to computer science early on in their education. She, like Hollis, noted that computer science is becoming an ever-larger part of daily life.
She also noted an expected shortage of computer science professionals will leave a tremendous number of jobs unfilled.
"The Bureau of Labor and Statistics predicts that within 10 years there will be a shortage of one million qualified computer scientists to fill open computing jobs," she said. "Technology firms are not the only ones who will be impacted by this shortage. Every industry, from health care to automotive, is seeking people with the skills acquired from learning computer science. Currently, industries in Mississippi are having to go out-of-state to find qualified computer scientists.
"There are currently more than 1,000 open computing jobs in Mississippi and less than 200 students graduating with computer science degrees," she added.
Hollis also said access to computer science early on in education can improve diversity in the field. She added that exposure to it can help students realize the ways in which it can be used in their own communities, from agriculture to improving sports safety.
"So much of the state is rural, and a lot of communities don't have any industry, much less tech industry," she said. "This can be used to create an international business in your own living room, and students can stay in the communities they're in and give back to the state.
"There are so many different ways they can use these skills and stay in Mississippi, to give back and grow our economy and make a dent in the shortage we're seeing," she added.
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