Are we forgetting the “T” in STEM?

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The buzz word in education these days is STEM, the acronym for Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math. Across the United States, educators are stressing the importance of STEM and states are launching huge STEM initiatives. Most of these efforts emphasize science, engineering or math, but few emphasize the powerful “T,” especially as it applies to the technology of computer science.

Computer Science Education Week (Dec. 5-11), is an effort to build awareness of the critical role computing plays in every aspect of society and to shine a light on the alarming decline in the number of computer science graduates in America.

SAS CEO, Dr. Jim Goodnight, frequently expresses his concern about how today’s students are lagging behind their international counterparts, particularly in the STEM fields. Computer science courses foster the skills that are needed to power a knowledge economy. Unfortunately, while many American students lack interest in the STEM skills, students in India, China, and the rest of Asia are excelling. It is very clear that the jobs requiring computer science knowledge will go to where the talent is located, so in the future, more and more of our jobs associated with innovation and creativity will be moving out of the U.S. Computer science is so often the gateway to innovation, but our current approach in K-12 does not give it the emphasis it deserves. In our education system, computer science courses are offered as “electives” and are not included in the core curriculum. The Association for Computing Machinery and the Computer Science Teachers Association have created nationally recognized computer science education standards, yet their adoption across the United States is scattered at best. Amazingly, no states require a computer science course for graduation despite the demand for computer proficiency in higher education.

Why must computer science courses continue to be an afterthought, rather than a requirement? There is nothing “elective” about these skills in today’s workforce, especially within the STEM fields. The role of corporate America is clear. We must remember the powerful “T” and encourage schools to promote computer science as an essential part of the STEM curriculum.

In an effort to lead by example, SAS recently joined the national STEM initiatives Change the Equation and Computing in the Core. Through such partnerships and efforts such as SAS Programming for High School, the North Carolina 1:1 Learning Technology Initiative and SAS Curriculum Pathways, SAS remains committed to initiatives that will equip our students with the skills they need to succeed in a global economy.

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About Author

Caroline McCullen

Caroline McCullen is the Director of Education Initiatives at SAS Institute. As a Former National Technology Teacher of the Year, she continues to pursue her greatest passions: supporting activities and organizations that inspire excellence in education and helping schools harness innovative uses of technology to engage students and improve instruction. Her most recent projects focus on science, technology engineering, and mathematics (STEM). She continues to work with the SAS Programming for High School course, the Triangle High Five Math Collaborative, and other activities related to excellence in math and technology. She serves on the advisory boards of numerous education organizations, such as the NC Science, Technology and Math Center; Public School Forum; NC Center for After-School Programs; the Governor’s Talent and Workforce Development Committee; and Wake Education Partnership. She holds a B.A. in English with a minor in education from Florida State University and a M.S. in Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages (TESOL) with a focus on technology from Nova Southeastern University, but she continues to learn every day from teachers and students as they use technology to innovate.

35 Comments

  1. At least one course in computer science should be a requirement. For kids very interested in computer science, programs like Apex AOIT are excellent. We have been very happy with the students from that program that have worked with us during the summer. How can we get other schools to copy them? It would be nice to have one in every county in NC at least.

  2. Caroline McCullen on

    Suzanne, I heartily agree that all students should be exposed to computer science (CS). How else will they find out about the exciting possibilities CS affords and the wide range of high-paying career options that weren't even around 5 years ago? This information just isn't in textbooks. We are missing too many students who might create tomorrow's innovations if they only had the exposure, and in this economy our country needs their brain power. At this point, many students think computer science is limited to HTML or graphic design. So sad!

  3. I would like to explore the interest around basic logic courses targeted for students that may not have mastered algebra II yet.
    Students could see the connections to logic theory and basic traditional math if it was taught together possibly.

  4. Caroline McCullen on

    I think you raise an important point, Angela. Several national organizations, particularly the Computer Science Teachers' Association, are encouraging states to restructure their curriculum differently to include the logic of computer science throughout. See for the details.

  5. Caroline McCullen on

    Thanks, Chris! This wisdom from the author of SAS for Dummies is right on and much appreciated. Maybe we need to launch a campaign: Computer Science...It's Not for GEEKS anymore!

  6. This vision for including computer science courses as a central part of secondary school curriculum makes sense. It would be especially valuable if a clear approach could be developed in which numeracy and literacy and essential skills were supported with this coursework so that overall performance were enhanced. I like it.

  7. We are fortunate at Apex HS and in AOIT to offer our students four different programming languages. I know this is not the norm in NC. I agree that some are forgetting the T in STEM. Most STEM inititatives really do focus on science, math, and engineering. I wonder if there is an underlying, sometimes false, assumption that the SEM already include technology? The two drivers for what students will take in high school are graduation requirements and college admissions requirements. If CS could fulfill a math or foreign language requirement, enrollment in CS would increase.

  8. Chris Hemedinger on

    A foreign language requirement! That's great! I was a Comp Sci major who married a Spanish major, and it never occurred to me that we both majored in "foreign" languages. Actually, she's only bilingual while I'm now multilingual (C, Java, LISP, Pascal, Fortran, and more).

  9. It is so easy now to teach and learn basic computer technology skills -and I don't mean MS Office, I mean programming. The Scratch project at http://scratch.mit.edu/ is a fabulous example of this because it uses computer technology and logic in a domain that kids are interested in - games, art, etc. It's really a "gateway drug" for STEM. My daughter was part of a pilot study for a Graphs and Glyphs program from NCSU three years ago at Raleigh's Centennial Campus Magnat Middle School. G&G used computer animation to teach basic geometry and algebra skills, like translation, rotation, scaling of geometric shapes.

  10. Chris Stephenson on

    You are absolutely right, Caroline, about the critical need to insure that all students achieve at least a fluency level understanding of computer science. Allowing students to count computer science a a graduation requirement is a good first step but we really need CS to included as a core course that is part of every student's high school experience. What really pleases me is to see companies like SAS get out in front on this issue because everyone wins if our students leave school well prepared for the jobs of the future.
    Chris Stephenson

  11. Let's not forget that STEM is an approach..not a collection of powerful letters. The key is applying the approach to solving today's and/or tomorrow's pressing problems or challenges: http://www.engineeringchallenges.org/.
    What should be required is at least one online course credit for graduation...and then a set of courses and/or modules, and/or mobiles built around STEM technologies. NCVPS.org is constructing such an environment with our 6.5 million in Race to the TOp funds. Yet, we need face to face districts to integrate and build the future learning platforms with us together.
    In addition, we need corporate partners to invest heavily in the transformation as well so that the knowledge workers of tomorrow get used to learning, leading, and collaborating on the very platforms they'll be asked to execute on in the workforce. With of course the kind of STEM thinking required to engineer and design learning pathways and processes to solve the grand challenges of tomorrow.

  12. Caroline McCullen on

    College admission requirements are an important piece of this. How many colleges require a computer science course for admission?

  13. Caroline McCullen on

    It's not so far fetched, Chris. At some universities, CS programming courses can actually satisfy the "foreign language" requirement. Are we confused, or what?!

  14. Caroline McCullen on

    I just wish I could get all of you guys together! I think we're all working on the same thing 🙂 YES, Scratch is a great way to introduce students to the logic of programming. I'm hoping we'll hear from some of the folks at Duke who are heading up the national effort to redesign the AP Computer Science course...and they are using Scratch! Owen??? Susan???

  15. Caroline McCullen on

    Great to hear from you, Chris! Most people would credit you with starting this national dialogue in your leadership role at CSTA. Kudos to you for your progress! You really educated me about the policy barriers as we launched our SAS Programming for High School course a few years ago. Who would have thought it would be so hard?! And isn't it true that any programming course would face similar barriers? How does that encourage innovation? Frankly, I think we should expose students to all kinds of programming...they need to learn how to write I-Phone Aps! If we believe innovation and creativity are the gateways to economic viability, the issue of computer science in K-20 is a huge national concern. It's hard to imagine any innovation without a computer programmer behind it, isn't it?

  16. Caroline McCullen on

    Yes, the online component is extremely important, Bryan. Our graduates won't be equipped for the future unless they can work online effectively and efficiently.

  17. Owen Astrachan on

    It's great to such wonderful support from Caroline and the folks at SAS and to see the widespread outpouring of support for computer science and computing in the core from folks teaching in North Carolina schools. I hope we can leverage this enthusiasm as we build up for our larger pilot of the CS Principles course we're working on. We'll be reporting on this at this year's SIGCSE conference in Dallas, and I'll work to make sure that folks in North Carolina know about the efforts and the program --- we've had great support from SAS in this. Information about the project and course will be available on csprinciples.org
    If there's some way we could all work toward this, I'm happy to help make that happen. The big computer science education conference for colleges and universitiies, SIGCSE, will be in Raleigh in 2012 -- let's make something happen by then!
    Owen
    --

  18. Chris Tunstall on

    Caroline, this is amazing to me. I have two young children (10 & 4) and I cannot believe that technology is not included in a core plan.
    Technology has become so critical to success in education, jobs, career and life. In the last 20 years, the way I live mjy life has changed dramatically due to technology and it will increae even mjore in my life. In the future I cannot imagine my kids not focusing on technology in their studies.
    I am so proud to work for a company that understands the needs of children and "puts their money where their mouth is" when it comes to educating the future generation.

  19. Caroline McCullen on

    This is where the devil really is in the details. See at http://csta.acm.org/runningonempty/ for the complete story and some recommendations. It's a little scary! Although computer courses are included in the curriculum, the problem is that they are "elective" so fewer students are opting to take them. So your children may indeed decide they want to enroll in a programming course, but probably not unless they are encouraged to do so...and if they have some idea about the creativity and the exciting careers involved. It's all about exposure, isn't it?

  20. Caroline McCullen on

    Owen, I'm hoping we can find more SAS employees who will get involved with your effort. We have many computer science majors working at SAS, and some may want to provide feedback as you create the new CS Principles course for high school students.I believe this course is a critical step in the right direction. Now the next step would be to get the course positioned in the core subject area of math or science, right?.

  21. Caroline, I completely agree... computer science courses should definitely become a requirement and not just an elective! When computer courses are offered as an elective, it seems to minimize the importance of technology and students may possibly assume that since it's not a requirement, that perhaps it's not very important in preparing for careers. Where in reality… it is very important, and technology is a major link in today’s workforce. I'm looking forward to seeing computer courses become a major requirement across the nation! Great post Caroline!

  22. I feel incredibly fortunate to have "come of age" in Computer Science during the early 80's. In my education and early work experience, it was still necessary to master the fundamentals of computing machinery architecture and to be able to program to it.
    IBM Assembler was my "native" language for many years and this made learning C much easier as well as Java VM concepts. All of this provided a wonderful world of exploration that ultimately led to innovation.
    Although the technology has changed and most software developers now innovate "higher up in the software stack", we still need a continued emphasis on mastery of the underlying platform.

  23. Caroline McCullen on

    I think you've hit on a topic we haven't yet addressed, Wilma: the future workforce! Computer science education plays a crucial role in preparing graduates who are prepared for careers of the future. Thanks so much for raising this issue. I would love to hear more ideas about how we can ensure we (the business community) are doing our part to make that happen.

  24. We've seen encouraging results with our 1:1 Laptop Initiative in providing students with a platform to explore their interest in computer science. As the students get more comfortable using the technology for educational purposes, they begin to see the benefits outside of traditional "surfing the web".

  25. Caroline McCullen on

    Brian, your comments certainly have significance coming from your perspective as an experienced programmer. I'm curious about whether your interest in CS began in high school or college...and what actually got you "hooked"?

  26. Caroline McCullen on

    Thank you for adding your perspective, George. I would encourage anyone who wants to see a great 1:1 program (i.e., a ratio of one computer every student) to visit http://ccms.wcpss.net/ . They use SAS(R) Curriculum Pathways(R) almost daily, and they are having great success.

  27. Hi Caroline,
    I graduated H.S. in 1978 but was not exposed to Computers until College. However, my dad had worked in Aircraft Quality Control and was also adept in electronics. So in some ways I think I was genetically "wired" for geek-level programming.
    My first Computer Science course was taught by a person who had extensive experience in military flight operating systems. I caught his enthusiasm along with several other teachers who had operating systems-level experience. They often spoke about their "real-world" work and this motivated me to learn the basics well.

  28. Also, it occurs to me that I was part of an Info-Science faculty/student forum during my final semester in 1983. By that point I had already learned SAS basics both in the university and as a COOP student employee at my previous workplace.
    During the forum, the very professor who had taught my first CS course asserted that SAS would grow to become a significant mainstream computing environment. Looking back now, this teacher not only inspired me to become a systems programming geek but also helped set the course of my career by recognizing the uniqueness and power of the SAS platform.

  29. I agree with you, there is nothing “elective” about the ”T” in STEM for education today. I’ve been involved with the AOIT program since 2006 & an advisory board member since 2009. I’ve seen first-hand the success of this program in several areas but most importantly, the students. I’ve been hiring summer AOIT students for several years and always had positive experiences with both their technical skillsets and their ability to work with other IT professionals. I’m glad to have the opportunity and privilege to be involved with what I consider to be a model program for other high schools and one that considers the “T” as an essential part of the STEM curriculum.

  30. Caroline McCullen on

    Hmmm...sounds like your professor was a visionary 🙂 By the way, I'm sure you know that today SAS CEO Dr. G. was named one of the top ten visionaries in IT. Some things never change, right? You were definitely on the bleeding edge, Brian!

  31. Caroline McCullen on

    We are so lucky to have you as an advocate, Tim. Your work with AOIT has proven that many high school students are ready for advanced programming experiences. I wonder how many potential innovators of tomorrow we miss because students are not exposed to computer programming? Many thanks!

  32. I have recently been named the Principal for the new Wake N.C. State University STEM Early College High School that opens in August 2011 with fifty freshman students. We will add 50 students per year for the next four years for a total enrollment of 250. Our instructional foci will integrate the STEM disciplines (including technology!) and the "Sustainability" challeng themes (http://www.engineeringchallenges.org/) into all of our core classes, and students will have the opportunity to accumulate up to two years of college course credit (computer science courses shoud be options for those students who choose to pursue additional instruction in this area).
    As a former researcher and science educator, there has been significant change to not only the worlds of STEM but also to how "learning and teaching" occur. The new STEM school will bring 21st Century Skills into the classroom, and computer science will help us accomplish this.
    Listed below are 21st Century Skills and relationships that I think are directly related to/dependent upon technology/computer science:
    Core Subjects
    --students will study technology as a science, math, "tool," and as part of the evolution of modern history
    --technology will be used to demonstrate how STEM and the Grand Challenges are integrated into core class projects and assignments
    Learning and Innovation
    --technology encourages and allows students to demonstrate their creativity and innovation
    --critical thinking and problem- solving skills are magnified by an "order of magnitude" with technology
    --enhanced and improved communication and collaboration depend on the use of technology
    Information, Media and Technical Skills
    --obviously technology is relevant and important here
    Life and Career Skills
    --the use of technology will encourage and allow our STEM students learn how/demnostrate high levels of flexibility, adaptability, productivity, and accountability.
    As a final note--as the former Asst. Principal for Instruction at Apex HS (home to a nationally-recognized AOIT Program), I have seen first-hand how computer science "pathways" can/need to be constructed. The AOIT computer sequences are application and programming, with four outstanding courses in each sequence (SAS Programming is in the programming sequence). Students choose a sequence and also take at least one course in the primary sequence not selected. A signficant measure of success to me is feedback that we received about our student interns from our "host" companies. If interested in further information about AOIT, then contact the AOIT Director (joster@wcpss.net).

  33. Caroline McCullen on

    We are very fortunate to have principals like you in the public school system, Rob. The program you started at Apex HS has won national recognition precisely because it exposes students to STEM careers at a time when they are beginning to make life choices. I can't wait to see what happens when you open the new Wake N.C. State University STEM Early College High School opens in August! I would encourage all Wake County parents to explore the options available for their children at this innovative, landmark school. *Hint*: Applications are now available at http://stemec.wcpss.net/

  34. Pingback: Computer Science isn’t just for geeks anymore - The SAS Dummy

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