White House spotlights HISD classroom computer science efforts

The Houston Independent School District’s efforts to increase the number of teachers trained in computer science and to immerse all students in computer programming from elementary to high school have earned the White House’s attention.

The White House computer science fact sheet outlines President Barack Obama’s plan to give all students across the country the chance to learn computer science in school. The fact sheet titled A Year of Action Supporting Computer Science Education for All (#CSForAll) shows the progress various states have made in computer science by adopting higher standards to better prepare students for success in careers and college since the initiative first launched in January.

The factsheet highlights HISD for its plans to double the number of computer science certified teachers over the next two academic years; expand advanced computer science courses by offering Advanced Placement computer science programming and computer science courses at 38 HISD high schools by the end of the 2017 school year; and adopt computer science standards that will provide for teaching computational thinking skills to 215,000 HISD students in grades pre-K to 12.

“HISD is committed to giving all students access to computer science courses to ensure that we integrate computational thinking skills such as collaboration and critical thinking across all subject areas,” said HISD Chief Academic Officer Dr. Grenita Lathan. “Providing more opportunities for our students to learn computer science will teach them how to code, build interactive technology, and to think differently about challenging problems.”

Currently 24 HISD high schools offer a computer science course with a certified computer science teacher. The district has partnered with the Center for STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) Education at the University of Texas at Austin to increase the amount of its computer science teachers by offering them a stipend to become certified.

“It’s important to have certified computer science teachers because without them schools cannot offer a computer science course,” said Adam Stephens, HISD officer of Advanced Academics. “Computer science brings a tremendous value to our students, providing them the skills and knowledge needed for a successful and productive future.”

In 2014, HISD began to integrate coding and computer science principles at all grade levels by teaming up with Code.org, a nonprofit organization that aims to expand student access to computer science. The three-year partnership includes professional development opportunities for teachers and access to online content delivery systems, as well as funding for professional development and classroom supplies. The partnership also focuses on using coding to emphasize the underlying principles of logic, creative thinking and expression in all academic areas.

This month, HISD students will participate in the district’s 12 Days of Code initiative as part of the Hour of Code, a global movement led by Code.org during Computer Science Education Week (Dec. 5-11). Students are encouraged to create technology – and not just use it – by completing at least an hour of coding.

Each day, interactive online calendars for elementary, middle and high schools will offer students a new coding experience, such as designing an iPhone game, tracking Santa, decoding messages with cryptography, and animating text. Once students complete an hour of code, they receive a certificate of completion and will be asked to share their certificate on social media using #HISDecoded. Last year, more than 25,000 students participated in the Hour of Code, and this year HISD would like to double that number.