There is a pot of grant money available to help solve a critical problem around the state — a shortage of students looking for careers in computer science.
A pair of professors from WSU Tri-Cities got their hands on a chunk of it, and they hope the seed money will result in a crop of teachers certified in the technical field.
They want to teach the teachers.
According to Code.org, a computer education advocacy group, in Washington alone there are more than 15,000 open jobs with an average annual salary of more than $100,000. But when it comes to computer science, there is no Washington university that offers a teaching certificate program.
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Enter Jonah Firestone, a WSU Tri-Cities assistant professor of teaching and learning, and associate professor Judy Morrison, who are leading a multi-year effort to create a certificate program.
“This is basically a requirement in today’s society,” Firestone said.
The pair are heading a program funded by a $49,000 grant from the Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction along with a matching donation by Pacific Northwest National Laboratory.
This is the first step of a multi-year process that will train more teachers, and in turn increase the number of students ready for careers in computer science.
The need for computer professionals is twice the average demand rate in the state, according Code.org. Those open jobs represent $1.7 billion in salaries.
Part of the way to fix that is by integrating computer science into more portions of the curriculum, Firestone said, so students are not just simply learning how to use the machines, but how to create with them.
“We want them to become generators of their own computer technology,” he said. “I want students to be able to create their own things, not just use what’s provided to them.”
The state grant was part of a $1 million package of computer science-related grants awarded to school districts across the state. The grant is aimed at providing students and educators information and technology necessary for the field.
The first phase of the project starts in the spring. A group of 30 teachers from across the Tri-Cities, Prosser and Othello will attendclasses taught by laboratory computer scientists.
The teachers come from a cross section of disciplines and a variety of school districts.
“We asked the districts to nominate teachers that they thought would be good,” Firestone said.
As the instructors learn how to bring computer science into their classrooms, Firestone and Morrison will gather information from the participants to develop a long-term plan.
“We need to see what the teachers respond to,” Firestone said. “Anyone can sit through a C++ class; the importance is to make it applicable.”
In June, Firestone and Morrison will begin to determine if there is a list of three to five classes that can help teachers become certified in computer science.
The next step will depend on what they find, Firestone said. This may be the first of a series of workshops, or it may be the only one they need, he said.
“This grant is allowing us to get this program started and off the ground,” Firestone said. “This is stage one of a multistage process.”