Computer Science in Charles County
The initial motivation to bring Computer Science to all students in Charles County started with the teachers. There were some very motivated and focused teachers who reached out to leadership and, working together, they got things moving and gave power to the idea. Charles County was one of the few districts to offer computer science classes in every high school 8 years ago, and the district realized that the only way to build equitable opportunities for all students was to start when students are young before the world tells them what they aren’t good at and they shy away from trying something new at the high school level.
The district took a very broad approach and started to transition computer application classes to include computer science, offer a wider variety of classes in both high schools and middle schools, and provide early exposure for every student in elementary school. Hour of Code became an annual event that continues to make many community and family connections as well as school-wide experiences across subject areas. Since computer science is a constantly changing field it is important to keep looking for new resources and opportunities to grow. Over time, there was a push to provide opportunities for every level of interest, motivation, and passion including computing clubs, summer camps, family code nights, robotics, Sea-Perch, and MESA. In 2016 members of the National Science Foundation visited the school system to see how students in every school were participating in computer science.
2019 data from the MLDS CS dashboard.
Charles County takes a holistic approach to STEM that includes CS at every level supporting a full range of options for students that include Engineering, CS, and STEM in school as well as through clubs, events, and competitions. All elementary students participate in PLTW Launch to learn problem-solving, design process, and coding and also enjoy weekly sessions in the computer lab that cover many of the K12 CS Standards for elementary students. The vision of CS for all students includes CS training for the SOAR (Structured teaching, Opportunities for social inclusion, Active learning, and Rigor) teachers to support students with special needs. There is targeted recruiting for girls in elementary and they are often paired with a high school to build relationships and be more open to ideas. Every school has a MESA team and the organization emphasizes that demographics should match that of the school with a push to be inclusive and include special ed students. Clubs like SeaPerch and robotics are modified for life skill students to allow them to participate.
After getting a program started that reaches every school there is the challenge of sustainability. In order to be effective, there is a need to support teachers so that they feel competent and expert in their content. But most teachers are transitioning from other content areas, without any computer science experience of their own. It’s important to build a program starting with people who have a passion. The amount of professional development that teachers invest in over the summer is amazing and it is clear that many teachers identify as lifelong learners. There are many teachers who are deeply committed to this project and they support each other. It takes a team of passionate teachers to keep things going. For example, each year, in order to supply all of the expertise needed to run the PLTW Launch elementary program, there are about 50-100 teachers who need to attend workshops and be certified in that curriculum because they are new or transitioning to a different grade level. We support teacher leaders to find a niche and their passion. A number of our teachers write and pilot curriculum and run professional development for national CS organizations.
At the secondary level, there is a strong community of teachers, many of whom are highly qualified and have stayed in their positions for a number of years. 85% of the secondary CS teachers surveyed feel good or excellent about their ability to teach the CS classes that they teach. By moving the technology graduation requirement to focus on computer science, the teachers are working with a broad range of students and participation is very strong. We also have an agreement for dual enrollment for CS with the local community college and are investigating additional options in that area and we are getting ready to add the MD apprenticeship program.
CTE is unique because there is a need to build really strong content expertise in very specific areas as well as educator expertise. There is an ongoing commitment by the district to provide professional development, leadership, and resources for computer science both in and out of CTE. The district partners with Code.org, Learning Blade, Edhesive, CodeHS, and PLTW Launch, and GTT to provide training and resources to support the many different classes offered across K-12. We also provide physical resources like ozobots, Sphero Robots, and Circuit Playgrounds for classroom use in addition to the many resources for clubs and camps. Having quality resources is a huge benefit because it provides support for new people and consistency across schools. There are specialists who teach CS content and concepts in every school in the county, including elementary, middle, and high. As a result, the diversity of students taking CS in high school and middle school is exemplary and closely reflects the diverse population of the district.
Read more about the leaders in Charles County Computer Science
Rebecca Pearson, Director of Career and Technical Education
Simone Young, Coordinator of STEM Education