A new Palo Alto school district committee has been charged with exploring and eventually recommending a computer science curriculum for all students, from kindergartners through high schoolers.
The Computer Science Curriculum Design Advisory committee, which started meeting in full last month, is researching available curriculum that would shift computer science from an elective pursued by interested students to a mainstream part of teaching and learning in the school district.
Part of the group's goal is "to make computer science accessible to everyone," said Chief Academic Officer for Secondary Education Sharon Ofek, who is co-chairing the new committee. "We want our students to think of computer science as having application in their lives, and having exposure to it in our school system is really important to that goal."
The 30-plus member committee is made up of students, parents, teachers, staff and administrators from all levels of the district. They are helping to move the district toward one of its overarching goals adopted for this year: to approve and start implementation of a pre-kindergarten through 12th grade computer science curriculum.
The committee's creation was spurred by a state and national shift toward more standardized computer science curriculum. Last January, then-president Barack Obama announced an initiative to direct billions of dollars to states and school districts to support computer science curriculum. Only about a quarter of K-12 districts offer computer science, he said.
"Computer science isn’t an optional skill – it’s a basic skill, right along with the three 'Rs,'" Obama said.
Currently, Palo Alto Unified students are exposed to computer science at varying extents. Instruction is most "rich" at the high schools, Ofek said, with Advanced Placement computer science classes and courses focused on subjects like programming, robotics and engineering. All middle schoolers learn about computers as sixth-graders in one section of their "wheel" class, which exposes students to different topics they can pursue as electives in seventh and eighth grade. For the last two years, the district has also hosted a weekend CodeFest for students and families.
A more cohesive districtwide curriculum would build students' skills from their first days in the district. At young ages, instruction could take the form of concepts like "tinkering" and problem solving, Ofek said. Middle schoolers could progress to actual coding before beginning more challenging work in high school.
"It's a 21st-century skill, so we want to start early and take it all the way through our system," she said.
The committee is considering making computer science a graduation requirement, which some other school districts have done.
The group is aiming to make a presentation to the school board later this spring, with implementation expected in the 2018-19 school year.
The computer science committee meetings are open to the public and held at the district office. The committee will meet next on Monday, March 13, at 4:30 p.m. For more information about the committee, go to pausd.org.