Eleven Montgomery high schools get new computer science offerings


Matthew Triska, 13, learns to build code using an iPad at a youth workshop in Stanford, Calif., in December 2011 during computer science education week, part of a joint effort with code.org to teach children the basics of coding. (Marcio Jose Sanchez/AP)

Computer science courses are expanding at 11 Montgomery County high schools from Clarksburg to Silver Spring in the coming school year as part of a new initiative to boost student understanding of what many see as a vital subject.

The effort — created through a partnership with the nonprofit code.org — was launched in March to increase computer science learning across the county’s 25 high schools, especially among girls and minorities. It comes amid several national efforts with similar goals.

Across the Washington region’s school systems, fewer than 1 in 10 high school students took computer science during the year that ended in June, according to district data gathered by The Washington Post.

As part of the new partnership, Montgomery will offer a course called “Foundations of Computer Science,” designed to be more engaging and attract students who might not otherwise embrace the topic. It goes beyond standard programming, with inquiry-based learning and topics such as the Internet and human-computer interaction. At least 250 students are signed up.

“I think this is the beginning of something positive,” said Ruth P. Green, director of enriched and innovative programs for Montgomery schools. The 11 high schools signed on for this school year will be joined by additional high schools next year, she said.

“I wouldn’t be surprised if we doubled it,” she said.

This year’s schools are: Clarksburg, Damascus, Gaithersburg, John F. Kennedy, Northwest, Northwood, Paint Branch, Quince Orchard, Rockville, Springbrook and Wheaton.

Professional development — supplied by code.org — has been important to the effort, Green said. Over the summer, teachers attended training sessions, which went “very, very well,” she said. Follow-up training will come during the school year.

Code.org has brought widespread attention to the computer science learning gap, first with a video that went viral — “What Most Schools Don’t Teach” — and then last December with a week-long “Hour of Code” campaign that drew millions of people worldwide.

The organization has paired with school systems nationally, providing professional development for teachers and new curricular materials. In nearby Charles County, code.org is helping to launch a computer science learning initiative across all grades, K-12.

Donna St. George writes about education, with an emphasis on Montgomery County schools.
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