By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily
In some non-coronavirus related news for Wyoming, the state’s Department of Education announced it received a grant from Microsoft for nearly $100,000.
The WDE received $93,245 in grants from Microsoft’s TechSpark initiative and the Digital Skills for Youth program, which will support computer science teacher training as a part of Boot Up Wyoming, a statewide program launched in 2018 to implement computer science in the state’s K-12 schools.
“Microsoft has been a key partner in Boot Up Wyoming since day one,” said Wyoming Superintendent of Public Instruction Jillian Balow. “Funds from this Digital Skills for Youth grant keep us on-track to deliver the highest-quality Computer Science education to all Wyoming students.”
A portion of the grant will enable the WDE’s Boot Up Wyoming initiative to provide a second round of strategic training on how computer science can be implemented in school districts, called Strategic CSforALL Resource and Implementation Planning Tool (SCRIPT) training.
CSforALL is an organization dedicated to making computer science part of every K-12 student’s education. The training provides districts with strategic planning tools to think through what is needed to provide equitable, high-quality computer science education available to all students in their districts.
In its first year, SCRIPT provided training for 24 school districts working to adopt computer science classes, said Laurel Ballard, the supervisor of the WDE’s student and teacher resources team.
She added with the grant, the WDE will be able to make training available to more districts while continuing the training in the first 24 districts.
“I will take as many (new districts) as want to do it,” she said.
The biggest benefit of the program is that it has allowed school districts to compare notes on their challenges and successes as they implement computer science classes.
“It gives them the chance to come together,” she said. “They come together and learn together.”
The grant will also be used to provide resources for the Wyoming chapter of the Computer Science Teachers Association (CSTA), a group of professional computer science teachers that has emerged as a valuable training resource for the state’s teachers, the WDE said.
In addition, the grant will provide the WDE with support for developing high-quality computer science micro-credentials for secondary teachers and students.
“Wyoming was one of the first states to implement computer science education in grades K-12 – now almost every state offers it,” Balow said. “This funding helps us remain pioneers by enabling the WDE to continue to provide professional development to educators focused around Computer Science education.”
Much discussion has been had regarding the computer science implementations over the last couple years. By law, these standards have to be implemented by the 2022-23 school year.
Some districts like Laramie County School District No. 1, Platte County School District No. 2 and Sheridan County School District No. 1 are already working to implement standards, but other schools will need more time to learn them and incorporate them into the curriculum.
Last year, state Attorney General Bridget Hill addressed the Wyoming State Board of Education to provide some recommendations about how the standards could be better written before their implementation into statewide school mandates.
“There are three types of state standards: content, performance and graduation,” Hill wrote in her recommendation. “The proposed computer science standards use three different labels (priority, supporting and enhanced). The word ‘benchmarks’ can refer to either the discrete items of knowledge that compose the standards or the grade-level or grade-band targets where those items must be taught.”
In her conclusion, Hill noted that just because these standards will be mandatory for all schools, this doesn’t mean all students will have to learn all of them.
She reiterated that the board should determine graduation requirements to include the computer science standards component and content benchmarks that should be mastered in lower grade levels and only create performance standards for those benchmarks.
“Wyoming’s vision is that every student has the opportunity to be met where they are — at their skill-level, in their school — and be inspired to learn how technology works and how to build solutions to society’s challenges. We strongly support that vision,” Dennis Ellis, manager of Microsoft’s TechSpark Wyoming, said in a statement on Thursday.