Kimberly Lane believes that in the digital age, computer science (CS) should be right up there with reading and writing as a foundational skill.
Lane, blended learning specialist for Lancaster Independent School District near Dallas, walks the talk by helping educators incorporate CS across all elementary subjects. But her passion lies in ensuring girls, students of color and other underrepresented student groups are introduced to CS.
She knows the statistics.Just 24 percent of tech jobs are held by women. Roughly 74 percent of girls in middle school express an interest in STEM, but by the time they get to college, just 0.3 percent major in computer science. And in 2016, just 26 percent of the computing workforce were women and less than 10 percent were women of color.
But she believes educators can be on the front lines of introducing computer science to under-represented groups. “As educators, we’re molding our students, so when they hear girls do this and boys do that, or this is a boy’s toy and this is a girl’s toy, our kids pick up on all of it. When I recruit kids for CS courses, I already see it, so we need to check our biases,” Lane says.
And that’s just the starting point for connecting underrepresented students to the excitement and benefits of CS and coding. Here’s a list of other ways to spur interest:
Hold a parent night. Sometimes parents think coding and CS is just about video games, an activity they don’t care to support during school hours. But by hosting a STEM expo or coding jam and inviting parents to attend, educators can dispel that myth, point to the benefits of CS, and explain how CS and coding experiences can shape students’ college or career opportunities.
Get help from groups working to improve diversity and inclusion. Turn to organizations like theNational Center for Women & Information Technology (NCWIT) that are focused on improving diversity and inclusion in computing. NCWIT’s AspireIT connects high school and college women with K-12 girls interested in computing through a “near-peer” model program. And NCWIT’s Counselors for Computing (C4C) provides school counselors with information and resources they can use to support all students as they explore CS education and careers.
Host a coding club. After school, before school, at lunch – by hosting a coding club and making it convenient to attend, the entry point to CS is expanded for all. Resources like Girls Who Code, Black Girls Code and TECHNOLOchicas provide tips for club startups, activities and help with raising awareness of tech opportunities.
Be fully inclusive. In addition to reaching out to girls and students of color, Lane reminds that students with special needs and those who can benefit from assistive tech should also be included in CS opportunities, and she’s seen students with challenges succeed firsthand. “Students can do anything we allow them to do. We need to provide the resources and invite them in.”