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

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

WASHINGTON, Iowa — As part of an initiative to build the computer science education capacity at Iowa schools, the state’s area education agencies have been awarded nearly $1 million in grants to provide professional development to more than 830 educators, who can use the extra knowledge to teach students.

The 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 over 1,000 educators across Iowa will now be equipped to deliver high-quality computer science curriculum to their students,” said Bridget Castelluccio, Grant Wood Area Education Agency consultant. “These grants will support multiple opportunities for computer science implementation from beginning level to advanced levels to meet new computer science-based standards based on grade level.”

Beginning with the 2022-23 school year, all Iowa public school districts must offer a semester of high school computer science. The following year, schools will need to adhere to computer science based standards in first through eighth grade.

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

Iowa’s nine Area Education Agency’s will provide in-person and virtual computer science professional development to teachers and administrators beginning this summer.

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

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

“Our work at Grant Wood is very much about empowering teachers to feel competent to understand the impact computers have on their lives and making sure Iowa kids understand computer standards,” Rogers said.

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

Computer science no longer happens in isolation, Castelluccio said. Students are using these skills to help further their learning.

Teaching computer science at this level across Iowa is “long overdue,” said Drew Ayrit, a computer science teacher at Washington High School in Washington, Iowa.

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

“It impacts every industry and every aspect of our lives at this point. This makes sure students have the opportunity to get a basic understanding of how it works,” said Ayrit, who is teaching Washington High’s first computer science class this year.

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

He hopes to someday be able to offer classes in advanced computer science and computer science for science — to run scientific experiments — at the high school.

“The sky’s the limit” in computer science careers, Ayrit said. “No matter what you care about, there’s a job in computer science associated with that. What problems do you want to solve? Computer science is going to play a role.”

Ayrit said he recently got an Apple Watch that tracks his movement, blood pressure and heart rate. With computer science, that information could be used to “power a health care plan,” he said. “It could be revolutionary.”

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

Washington freshmen Kyann Miller goes through her coding project during 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 that computer science is important for students to learn as it will apply to almost every career field. (Savannah Blake/The Gazette)

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