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STEM

Becky Byer, a math and computer science teacher at Kelly Walsh, works with Jonah Blom during a computer science class in November 2017. The Wyoming Board of Education has approved the state's first computer science standards.

The State Board of Education unanimously approved Wyoming’s first computer sciences standards late last month, after a review committee reconvened in response to concern that a previous draft overloaded teachers at lower grade levels.

The approval — on the back of a law passed last year requiring computer science be taught to all Wyoming students — marks a first for the state.

“The basket of goods, which has our content areas, has never been changed since it was created back in the 1990s,” state Superintendent Jillian Balow said last week. The basket of goods is education shorthand for the educational areas — like math and science — that must be provided to all Wyoming kids. “It’s the first time that a new content area has been added or that the basket of goods has been changed. It’s new territory for all of Wyoming.”

In March, the state board asked the Education Department to reconvene the committee that was drafting the standards. Specifically, there was concern that early elementary teachers were being asked to do too much.

“The teachers are tasked with some pretty heavy lifts, especially in those early grades because you’re getting a huge variety of where those students are,” said Ryan Fuhrman, a Sheridan County junior high teacher and member of the state board. “We’re holding (teachers) accountable as a state to their reading and math scores. When we’re essentially creating a whole new standard, teachers were rightly like, ‘We’re already working to get this reading and math score, it’s not like we have some extra time in the day where we’re sitting around.’”

In the slightly reshaped standards approved at the state board’s April meeting, the nine “required” standards for kindergarten through second grade were tiered. Four were kept as priorities, while the other five were tasked as either “enhanced” or “supporting” standards.

Students are expected to “demonstrate mastery” by the end of second grade on the priority benchmarks, are expected to be instructed on the supporting standards and are expected to have “an opportunity for enrichment” with the enhanced-level benchmarks, according to the state board’s presentation.

The priority standards for students are:

  • to explain authentication factors (like logging in), what their purpose is and use authentication to protect information;
  • to create and follow algorithms to complete tasks;
  • to create programs to accomplish tasks using a program language, robotic device or “unplugged activity”; and
  • to practice appropriate behavior and responsibilities “while participating in an online community.”

Most of the standards for the lower grade levels are also “unplugged,” Balow said, meaning students don’t necessarily need to use technology to master them.

She praised the standard-crafting committee, which she said included business and industry representatives as well as teachers and parents.

“This was the first time we’ve brought people from out of state,” Balow added.

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Gov. Mark Gordon must now give permission for the standards to move forward. Once he does, public comment will open.

Under the computer science law passed in 2018, the standards must be finished by Jan. 1, 2022, and be ready for the following school year. Balow said she was confident it could be done, though more work was needed. When the law was being debated, some in the education community raised concerns about either training current instructors to teach computer science or bringing qualified teachers to small town Wyoming.

Balow said the state has the infrastructure to support it. The focus, she continued, is on teachers and providing them the resources they need.

“That’s what makes this such a challenge is that most teachers in Wyoming never learned computer science or computational thinking,” she said. “They never learned how to teach it. We’re now asking them to teach it within three years. In order to do that, lots of us have to step forward, not just teachers.”

Fuhrman echoed that sentiment, calling on the Legislature — which has been more interested in cutting than spending in recent years — to provide funding to help Wyoming’s educators.

“I think you increase your probability of reaching that goal with better support,” he said. “I do think most teachers, most schools, most districts tackle the problems we get. That’s what we have to do with every student that comes in the door. We’ll rise to the challenge. I think the … concern will be a lot more minimized if teachers knew, or districts knew, where some of the money for new technology and new professional development is coming from, now. There’s some big open questions now.”

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Follow education reporter Seth Klamann on Twitter @SethKlamann

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Education and Health Reporter

Seth Klamann joined the Star-Tribune in 2016 and covers education and health. A 2015 graduate of the University of Missouri and proud Kansas City native, Seth worked for newspapers in Milwaukee and Omaha before coming to Casper.

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