NSF-funded study will help district determine how best to incorporate computer science in classrooms

Florida’s Broward County School District is starting young with computer science instruction, integrating it in math and science classes at the kindergarten level.

More than 110 of the district’s 139 elementary schools are teaching it this year, reaching about 27,000 students. That’s a significant increase from last year, when 80 schools taught it to 3,000 students.

Administrators say it’s important to get students interested in computer science before they leave elementary school.

“Research shows that if kids don’t get exposed to this before fourth grade, they’ve already made career choices, they’ve already made decisions about what they can and can’t do,” said Guy Barmoha, the district’s director of mathematics, science and gifted.

There’s a huge demand for employees in computing, with more than 24,000 open computing jobs in Florida, according to data presented to school board members this month.

The push to bring computing lessons into elementary school classrooms is part of a larger effort to get computer science in every school, for every student.

“When we talk about STEM and computer science in K through 12, we’re not just talking about training a limited number of students to be good in computer science,” Barmoha said. “[It] is being seen as a new form of literacy.”

The district in 2014 partnered with Code.org, a national nonprofit working to expand computer science education. Under the four-year agreement, the organization provides training to teachers across the district.

Currently, every Broward high school offers classes in computer science while 34 of 40 middle schools have it.

School board member Robin Bartleman asked whether the district should require the classes in middle school. She pointed out that the number of students signed up for the dedicated computer science courses – 3,055 out of more than 70,000 – is “pretty small.”

“I think if you had some kind of exposure class, or introductory class, they might be more apt to take the high school courses we’re putting together,” Bartleman said.

The district’s current approach for middle school is to integrate computer science into math and science, which administrators said is the code.org model. Students get 40 hours of it yearly.

In elementary school, students get 18 hours of integrated computer science curriculum each year. How that looks varies based on the teacher and how they decide to handle it.

A National Science Foundation-funded study of Broward County schools will eventually help “figure out how to implement it in the elementary school day,” said Lisa Milenkovic, a science curriculum supervisor for the district.

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