MDE Rolls Out New High School Computer Science Curricula
Lafayette High School (Lafayette County School District) freshmen computer science students Ethan White (left) and Andrew Jordan collaborate in the school's computer lab during the fall semester.
Center Hill Middle School (DeSoto County Schools) Cyber Foundations I teachers Ashley Hileman (front) and Alecia Reese work on developing distance-learning plans for their students in the fall to make sure students had some normalcy, consistency and security in their lives during the COVID-19 pandemic by providing a continuation of stable daily learning agendas and a means to connect virtually.
The beginning of the 2020-2021 academic year brought new changes to high school computer science education thanks to the continued efforts of the Computer Science for Mississippi (CS4MS) Initiative.
With official approval from the Mississippi State Board of Education in 2020, school districts across the state began offering the Cyber Foundations (CF) I and Exploring Computer Science (ECS) courses this school year. The implementation of these new curricula provides students with more opportunities not only to reinforce their foundational computing concepts, but also to challenge them to build on that knowledge by making real-world connections that can better prepare them for today’s high-tech workforce and the jobs of tomorrow.
Technology is an ever-evolving field and is now an integral aspect of many jobs, so it is vital students have a solid foundation of computing and critical-thinking skills. The CF I curricula is designed to do just that. Students focus on their foundational computing skills by exploring areas in digital citizenship, technology applications, career exploration and fundamental computing concepts, such as problem-solving and coding.
Although school districts can offer this course to students as early as sixth grade, the course is a career and technical education (CTE) pathway available to both middle and high school students. School districts may also choose for classes to contain mixed grades if local district policy allows. Beginning in the 2021-2022 academic year, CF II, the subsequent course to CF I, will be available statewide and will complete the two-phase transition of the new curricula in CF.
Students who are more advanced in their computing and technology learning trajectory can now take the ECS course, which is available to freshmen and older students and allows for mixed-grade classes depending on local policy. What initially began as the first pilot of CS4MS, the new ECS curriculum is designed as a survey course to explore the breadth of the computer science field.
Students begin the course by focusing on foundational problem-solving and critical-thinking skills, with special attention given to algorithmic development. It then takes students through units that introduce them to basic Web development, programming, robotics, data science and artificial intelligence. Due to the nature of these units, it is highly recommended students complete Algebra I prior to or in conjunction with ECS to ensure they grasp the algorithmic concepts in this course.
The ECS curriculum is engaging and exploratory for students, so they have many opportunities to collaborate and discuss ideas. The first unit of the course focuses on human-computer interaction, which guides students into the course by broadening their understanding of the many types of computers and how we use them.
“Within our human-computer interaction talks, we have discussions about defining what a computer actually is and then begin the great debate of determining what devices are actually computers,” said Corey Burt, an ECS teacher at Lafayette County School District’s Lafayette High School. “Our discussions get extremely intense at times, and it's just fun to open their minds up to all of the different types of computers around them daily.”
Another interesting aspect of the course is how students begin to understand what data is and how it is collected and used through their online presence. Burt uses classroom activities to show his students the importance of data and how it can affect people.
“They're given data-privacy scenarios that are real-world issues in which people's lives are affected by the data they emit,” he said. “In groups, students have to present to the class who was at fault and if the data should've been kept private. This assignment really hits home with them because they don't realize how much data they give off daily. They soon begin to realize the need for protection of their sensitive data, as this could affect their life in the future.”
"Mississippi’s CTE instructors and students enrolled in computer science courses have a unique opportunity to learn and apply innovative computer technology skills in a global community."
Dr. Louella Mack-Webster, Mississippi Department of Education STEM program supervisor
As students deepen their understanding of computer science concepts through these new courses, the goal is to develop valuable critical-thinking skills that will assist them throughout their educational journey and enhance their employability when they join the workforce. By providing access to these new learning opportunities, today’s students will be even more prepared to take on the challenge of adapting to the technological advances of the future by becoming innovative thinkers.
“Providing employability skills is essential to workforce development,” said Dr. Louella Mack-Webster, the Mississippi Department of Education’s STEM program supervisor. “The new computer science curricula will train students via preparatory fostering of perceptions, technology application, problem-solving, CTE and industry and business opportunities. Mississippi’s CTE instructors and students enrolled in computer science courses have a unique opportunity to learn and apply innovative computer technology skills in a global community. The new curricula are a welcome addition to our current CTE STEM programs.”