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Your students might be asking, “Why should I study computer science?” At the same time, you might be asking, “With everything already on my plate, does teaching computer science really help my students?” In this blog, we answer these questions by exploring research that shows the relationships between computer science education and math scores, science scores, and critical thinking skills respectively. Additionally, we discuss how computer science education opens up more doors for career opportunities.
But first, let’s answer the question, what is computer science? Computer science involves the study of computers and computational systems. This is not limited to coding and programming, though. Computer science also involves networks, data storage, cybersecurity, digital citizenship, and more. So then, what is computer science education? Students get to learn all of those aspects of computer science to help them navigate technology in a safe and ethical way. In short, CS education teaches students to not only consume technology, but also create it. Discover some of the many ways computer science instruction benefits students in this post.
Let’s dive into some computer science education research. According to EdWeek.org (2017), Virginia became the first state to require computer science education in K-12. By 2018, 22 states had adopted computer science standards (Edweek.org, 2018). The rapid expansion of CS education has not slowed down by the year 2022. As the years go by, and as more students have access to computer science instruction, it’s no wonder that research has shown how CS might affect other subject areas. Do computer science technology and the subject areas of math and science go hand in hand? Are the benefits of studying computer science related to math and science standardized testing scores? Find out in the next couple sections.
A study by Salac, Thomas, Butler, & Franklin (2021) evaluated math test scores of fourth graders in the following groups: 193 students who received computer science instruction and 162 students who did not. In year 1 of the study, no students received CS instruction. In year 2, the students were broken into two groups: one group learned computer science (Comparison), and the other group did not (No CS). After comparing the math test scores, it was found that both groups made math gains; however, the Comparison group that received CS instruction scored higher than the No CS group. You can see these results in the figure to the right, which were found to be statistically significant by a Tukey post-hoc test. While it is expected that all students will make gains from year to year, the results of this study indicate a correlation between students’ participation in computer science instruction and statistically significant increases in achievement compared to their peers. Additionally, it was found that ELL students and students facing economically disadvantaged students in the Comparison group generated more improved outcomes than those in the No CS group.
Looking at these findings, participation in computer science instruction boosts math achievement scores. Perhaps this is because math and computer science have many skills in common. Both subject areas involve abstract reasoning, critical thought, and logic. Let’s look at another study to confirm these correlations.
In another study (Cheng, 2016), high school students participated in a curriculum in which computer science was integrated into math class. In the previous year, high school students did not have exposure to computer science education. In that year, only 61% of students completed the math course with passing marks. In the following year, the math course integrated computer science. For example, students might have to solve the following problem: Write a program for a yogurt shop to process the sale of frozen yogurt. The sale price for frozen yogurt is $0.39 per ounce. The sales tax is 8.25 percent. Instead of simply calculating this answer, students would have to write a computer program to generate the solution using algorithms. Using integration in this way, 94% of the students passed the course that year. These findings add support to the idea that computer science can help boost student outcomes in mathematics.
Computer science is just one branch that falls under the umbrella subject of science. When students take standardized science tests, it’s likely that they will be tested over all the branches of science. Even though computer science might just be one part of these tests, one study (2018) funded by the National Science Foundation found a positive correlation between studying CS and science test scores. In this study, 16 schools had a group of grade 3-5 teachers implementing computer science instruction and a group of teachers instructing as usual (control group). When comparing students who studied computer science versus students who did not, the CS students scored higher on science assessments. These results were found to be statistically significant (β = 55.45, p = .006).
In another study, the academic achievement of 15 year old students were compared (Alderete & Formichella, 2016). One group of students participated in a digital inclusion program, while the other group did not (control group). This program was implemented to give students access to technology, whereas the students in the control group did not have that technology. When analyzing the results of a science standardized test, it was found that the difference in average scores was 47.7% between the digital inclusion program group and the control group – the group in the program scored higher. These results were found to be statistically significant. From this study, we are able to reasonably conclude that the technology introduced with computer science education can help student achievement in science.
It’s important to note that computer science can be integrated into other subjects – like math and other branches of science! One example of integrating math and computer science is with this free coding lesson, which involves students using Scratch to interact with the coordinate plane. Additionally, to introduce the concept of algorithms to students, try this free coding lesson that has students working with loops. Algorithms are at the heart of math as well as computer science! Stay tuned for an upcoming blog post where we describe other ways to incorporate computer science into math instruction.
In our blog Interdisciplinary Connections: Science, we explain how to incorporate computer science instruction into other science domains, such as physical science, life science, and earth & space science. To get you started, check out our My STEM Career podcast. In these interviews, we talk with professionals in STEM, and they describe how they use computer science in their daily jobs. Some notable interviews in relation to other branches of science include our episodes with a doctor and an engineering manager. You can also try out this free STEM career lesson in which students explore roles within the audio department in game design. Finally, to teach other branches of science while students interact with coding, visit this Code.org page that includes lessons that integrate the areas of science.
If you’re interested in learning more about how to integrate computer science in to your school day, schedule a 30 minute call with one of our curriculum experts.
While computer science does aid in standardized testing scores according to our research above, CS education offers countless other benefits for students. Our world is growing and thriving off of technology. On a daily basis, we use devices and applications that make our lives easier and more efficient. From texting to googling to scrolling through social media, we interact with computers constantly. It is amazing to think about how has computer science impacted the world. But why do we need to study computer science? Even if you don’t have interest in pursuing computer science as a career, studying CS can improve critical thinking and problem solving skills. One study found a positive relationship between learning computer programming and the skills of creative thinking, metacognition, and reasoning (Scherer, Siddiq, & Viveros, 2019). The students who learned computer programming were able to show a transfer of learning to other domains outside of computer science. These are skills that are essential to many walks of life and careers. Aside from these skills, there are other benefits to CS education. Read about them in the next 3 sections.
At Ellipsis Education, we interview professionals from many career paths and listen to how they use computer science in their day to day. Of course, you would expect someone like a software engineer to use computer science frequently. But did you know that even someone like a patent lawyer or a doctor uses computer science at work, too? Society is evolving and becoming more dependent on computers and technology. Because of this, it is apparent that there is importance of computer science to the world. Students who study computer science can shape the future. The computer science field is one of the highest paying career fields in the world. Whether students earn a computer science education degree or pursue a different field, computer science skills are an asset that will help them throughout their lives. In fact, there are many careers that involve computer science. Out of 7.7 million people who say they use computers in complex ways at their jobs, 3.9 million have jobs in STEM fields and 3.8 million have jobs in non-STEM fields. So when you ask yourself, “What is computer education?”, remember that it’s not just coding and programming – it’s skills that are essential for the world we live in today.
Speaking of STEM careers, there are an estimated 1.4 million CS jobs in the United States, but only about 400k computer science students at the postsecondary level. This deficit in CS workers is causing the US economy to lose out on a 500 billion dollar opportunity to grow! When students study computer science, they have a direct influence on contributing to this economic growth. As technology continues to advance, the need for CS jobs will only become greater. Ensuring that students receive computer science education in K-12 can help these students pursue CS at the postsecondary level and in their careers.
Another benefit of K-12 computer science education is that it contributes to closing the gender gap in STEM professions. According to a study by the University of Nebraska, many girls pursuing a computer science degree feel that there were not sufficient opportunities to learn computer science in their K-12 schools (Hazley, 2016). Additionally, according to an article by Reshma Saujani, the founder of Girls Who Code, only 25% of CS jobs are held by women. Introducing girls to computer science both early and often in their academic careers can help close this gap. STEM courses help girls build confidence with the subject and imagine themselves in STEM careers. To close this gender gap, computer science must be viewed as a subject for everyone, not just the people who already have a knack for it.
Given gains in core subject understanding and improvements in critical thinking and problem solving, legislators at a state level are realizing the importance of computer science education. In fact, more than $65 million was allocated by states for K-12 computer science education for 2022, more than any previous year (Code.org, CSTA, & ECEP Alliance, 2021). States are increasingly addressing the need for integrating computer science into the school day. Many states are adapting standards that stem from the ISTE Standards or the CSTA Standards. The CSTA Standards derive from the K-12 Computer Science Framework, which outlines what students should know and be able to do. The vision of the framework is to ensure that students are not simply consumers of technology; but creators of it. If you are interested in learning more about your state’s standards, find your state and read about various computer science initiatives here. In addition, title funds are distributed by the federal government to support STEM initiatives in schools. It is clear that even government representatives find value in implementing computer science education into their classrooms.
Ellipsis Education provides full-year computer science curriculum for K-12. The curriculum offers grade level differentiated learning pathways, aligns with all state and national K-12 computer science standards, and is continually updated to reflect changes in computer science. Ellipsis Education courses are customized to districts’ unique instructional strategy for computer science integration. This can mean incorporating computer science into an existing class period, adding to a specials rotation, or introducing a stand alone class. Courses are delivered with instructional resources teachers need to feel confident teaching computer science. Click here to learn more about our K-12 pathway, or read an overview below.
Our computer science curriculum for K-2 empowers you to engage your students with courses that fuel their interest. Coding lessons use ScratchJr, an introductory block coding language, perfect for emergent and early readers. In grades 3-5, inspire your students with courses that spark their creativity. Coding lessons use Scratch, a block based coding language, ideal for the transitional and fluent reader.
Explore our full course offering on our courses page to learn more about our computer science education program.
What do you study in computer science? It’s not just coding and programming! In this free STEM Career lesson, Audio Department, students will explore various roles within the audio department in game design. Students will view a multitude of videos to access prior knowledge of general sound within video games. In addition, students will be introduced to the evolution and expansion of game audio that has been observed over time. This lesson is built for grades 9-12 and includes links to the appropriate materials and resources, a detailed procedure, activity tips, and a bonus challenge activity.