Using Computer Science to Boot Up Wyoming

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By Jillian Balow, Superintendent of Public Instruction, Wyoming Department of Education

When I entered office in 2015, I discovered some alarming data. In the 2015-16 school year, only three Wyoming students passed the Advanced Placement Computer Science exam. This left a glaring question: Does Wyoming take the lead on computer science education or do we continue to fall behind?

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To me, the choice was clear. The vast majority of future career opportunities require a wide variety of computer skills, and students exposed to Computer Science will have the tools needed to succeed. Already in 2018, there are 2,594 Computer Specialist positions in Wyoming alone, which is over three times the national average. As a STEM subject, Computer Science adds skills-based learning and teaches computational thinking, sequential thinking, and curiosity.

After three years of effort, and shortly after celebrating our second Computer Science Education Week, the state of Wyoming Legislature passed a state law requiring all Wyoming schools to offer computer science by the 2022-23 school year.

There is a lot of work to be done over the next four plus years, but an equitable funding model and a broad range of support has given Wyoming a strong foundation to Boot Up Wyoming. Starting immediately, the work will involve cost analysis, teacher training, and the development of K-12 standards.

Last month, one of our school districts held their first elementary Lego robotics competition. The Robotic Design winner was one of Wyoming’s one-room schools, Willadsen Elementary. Only one student was on the team, a sixth-grader, whose first-grade classmate was too young to compete. Their teacher adjusted their math curriculum so they could both be involved in preparing for the competition. Afterwards, the winner said he is considering a career as a computer programmer.

While implementation of Computer Science may look a little different in every school, opportunity will be the same for all in Wyoming, and the possibilities are limitless.

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