Iowa educators learn to teach high-quality computer science with state grant

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Science teacher Drew Ayrit helps senior Evan Rathmell with his coding project during Wednesday class at Washington High School in Washington, Iowa. This is the first year the school has offered a computer science program. (Savannah Blake/The Gazette)

WASHINGTON, Iowa — As part of an initiative to build computer science education capacity in Iowa schools, education agencies across the state have received nearly a million dollars in grants to provide professional development to more than 830 educators, who can use the additional knowledge to teach students.

Funding was made available through four grants from the Iowa Department of Education.

“This funding, combined with last year’s computer science funding that impacted 350 teachers, means that more than 1,000 educators in Iowa will now be equipped to deliver a high-quality computer science curriculum to their students,” said Bridget Castelluccio, consultant to the Grant Wood Area Education Agency. “These grants will support multiple opportunities to implement computer science from beginner to advanced level to meet new grade-based computing standards.”

Beginning with the 2022-23 school year, all public school districts in Iowa must offer a high school computer science semester. The following year, schools will be required to adhere to computer standards for grades one through eight.

“With this year’s grant, we are able to expand our training to include K-5 teachers, whereas last year’s grant only supported grades 6-12” , said Castelluccio.

Iowa’s nine regional education agencies will offer in-person and virtual IT professional development for teachers and administrators starting this summer.

“These trainings will help 26 school districts in the Grant Wood AEA service area implement a computer science curriculum in their schools, and hundreds of districts statewide,” said Corey Rogers, consultant Grant Wood AEA, who will work with Castelluccio to provide training in the seven county regions supported by Grant Wood AEA – Benton, Cedar, Iowa, Johnson, Jones, Linn and Washington counties.

Professional development using these funds will begin in the summer of 2022 and classroom instruction will begin the following fall.

“Our job at Grant Wood is fundamentally about empowering teachers to feel competent to understand the impact of computers on their lives and making sure kids in Iowa understand computer standards,” Rogers said.

Educators will learn how to teach students how to engage in computer programming, computer ethics, how hardware and software work together, how the internet and networks work, and how computers can facilitate the collection and data analysis, Rogers said.

Computing no longer happens in isolation, Castelluccio said. Students use these skills to deepen their learning.

Computer science education at this level in Iowa is “long overdue,” said Drew Ayrit, a computer science professor at Washington High School in Washington, Iowa.

“It’s almost like not being able to read,” Ayrit said. “At some point, if you don’t understand how digital information works and how it’s shared, that’s a level of illiteracy.”

“It impacts every industry and every aspect of our lives at this point. It ensures students have the opportunity to gain a basic understanding of how it works,” said Ayrit, who this year is teaching the first computer class from Washington High.

Ayrit will begin working with a team of elementary, middle and high school teachers – with the help of this grant – to better understand how to teach computer science and what students need to learn.

He hopes to one day be able to offer courses in advanced computing and computing for science – to conduct scientific experiments – in high school.

“The sky’s the limit” in IT careers, Ayrit said. “No matter what you’re interested in, there’s an IT job associated with it. What problems do you want to solve? Computers will play a role.

Ayrit said he recently received an Apple Watch that tracks his movements, blood pressure and heart rate. With computing, that information could be used to “feed into a health care plan,” he said. “It could be revolutionary.”

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Senior Kendra Kucera reaches out to review a piece of code her classmate, freshman Kyann Miller, needs help with during computer science class Wednesday at Washington High School in Washington, Iowa. (Savannah Blake/The Gazette)

Washington freshman Kyann Miller goes through her coding project during a computer science class Wednesday at Washington High School in Washington, Iowa. (Savannah Blake/The Gazette)

Sophomore Miguel Torres works on a coding project with his classmates during a computer science class Wednesday at Washington High School in Washington, Iowa. Teacher Drew Ayrit says computer science is important for students because it will apply to almost any career field. (Savannah Blake/The Gazette)

Professor Drew Ayrit reviews an exam for an upcoming test during his Wednesday computer science class at Washington High School in Washington, Iowa. Not learning computers is “almost like not being able to read”, he said. “At some point, if you don’t understand how digital information works and how it’s shared, that’s a level of illiteracy.” (Savannah Blake/The Gazette)

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