For the upcoming school year, Lawrence High School will be adding three new computer courses in order to meet the changing needs and interests of students and to better prepare them for a changing professional world.
According to Andrew Zuckerman, the director of instructional services for Lawrence Township Public Schools, the idea for adding such courses to the high school began approximately two years ago, and it stemmed from the “need of our society and the interest of the student. They absolutely have [shown clear interest] in wanting computer classes, as has the community.”
Zuckerman, who has been with the district for the last 12 years, says the district holds an event called the Community Conversation each year where school officials listen to community members’ questions and ideas, as well as provide them with updates as far as what’s going on in the district. On a number of occasions, he added, residents suggested adding computer and programming courses to the high school curriculum.
‘This is taking it to the next level, in that we are actually working with students regarding programming language.’
They decided to move forward with the courses last fall and presented their ideas during last December’s Community Conversation. He added that, in almost every public discussion between the administration and the community, there has been positive feedback and encouragement regarding adding these classes.
Zuckerman was key to the process of actually creating these new classes for the school, as the initial decision for the request of these courses came out of his office. “First, we have to gain the interest of the students, and we certainly have that,” he said. “Second, as the board liaison to the curriculum committee, I bring the idea of the course to the curriculum committee and the board for their approval, and once they approve the new courses I begin working with the supervisors and the teacher to develop the curriculum itself.”
However, this was not the first computer literacy project in the district. “We have a program in our district, the 1:1 Laptop program, that provides students from grades 6-12 with their own Chromebook, so we certainly believe that’s essential for them to get ready for life outside of school,” Zuckerman said. The same sentiment is part of the “programming courses that we’re offering this year, which can give students that little bit of advantage once they leave high school once they go out into the world or into post-secondary education.”
Along with the 1:1 laptop program, the high school also already has a STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics) Academy, which focuses more on the science aspect of computers. “We also have a social media class that we offer in the high school, and we have several courses that are offered more from a rudimentary standpoint on computer applications, but this is really taking it to the next level, in that we are actually working with students regarding programming language and the application of programming,” Zuckerman said.
While there is no plan to hire new teachers to teach these courses, Zuckerman said that some of the staff is receiving specific training. It is not yet announced which teachers will be instructing the courses. However, the school will not even need to create new computer labs for these courses. The 1:1 laptop program will allow these courses to have a flexibility in location, as the students can bring their laptops to any classroom chosen for instruction.
Zuckerman believes that even students who may not be directly interested in a career regarding computer science should take the courses for various reasons.
“These courses will help prepare a strong foundation for the aspects of the real world,” he said. “They will also provide skills that they’re going to need to be successful.”
These skills include analytical thinking, logical reasoning, basic computer fluency and problem solving, among others, and they are clearly important for a large variety of careers.
This update comes at a time of a worldwide boom in STEM careers, especially regarding programming. According to data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, employment in occupations related to STEM is projected to add more than 9 million jobs between 2012 and 2022. Furthermore, even jobs that are not in these fields now require at least a basic understanding of computers and technology. By participating in these new computer science courses, Zuckerman hopes that the graduates of Lawrence High School will be ready to excel in any field or job, some which may not even be created yet.
Zuckerman believes the changing courses and focus of the school district may not be limited to Lawrence High School. “I could possibly see that in the years to come, we may move down the introductory courses, but we first want to introduce it in the high school,” he said.
Overall, in adding these courses to the high school, the Lawrence Township Public Schools hopes to accomplish various goals. Along with developing the schools themselves, Zuckerman believes that adding these courses will help in “making the students best prepared we can for their futures.”
This comes in tandem with other local STEM news. The Lawrence Township Education Foundation and Lawrence Township Public Schools received a $24,437 grant from Bristol-Myers Squibb to provide equipment and workstations that would upgrade a lab into a technology center. The lab will be outfitted with a 3D printer and laser cutter, fume extractor, computers, cameras and work tables. As of now, these funds will be used to update the programs in the technology lab, not for the programming classes.