December 3-9 marks Computer Science Education Week, an annual program promoted by Code.org dedicated to inspiring K-12 students to take an interest in computer science.
According to Code.org, while the majority of students and parents think computer science is important, only 35% of American high schools offer a course in the field. At the same time, computing jobs are the number one source of new wages in the United States.
Heather Welch teaches Principles of Computer Science at Asheville School, and she says there couldn't be a course more relevant for today. "More and more, in our daily lives and across every industry, there is value in and need for computer science knowledge," she said. "My hope is that students' experiences in high school computer science will spark an interest to explore the field further. No matter what these students decide to do in college and beyond, I am confident that they will find a use for and benefit from the computer science skills and knowledge they acquire."
Asheville School senior Gabriel Wong thinks coding is one of the most valuable skills that young people can learn. Wong has participated in Asheville School's App Development Summer Camp and last year worked at the camp as an assistant instructor. He is also on the Blues' robotics team, Blue Shift.
"Coding is a lot like learning a language," Wong said. "It is collaborative and teaches you a way to communicate. More than anything, programming is a mindset you have to get into – it's another way to present information that you can use in any field."
Wong hopes to major in computer science in college, and he hopes to focus on artificial intelligence technologies. "I think that in the future, everyone is going to need to have a basic idea of how coding works," he said. "Everyone is going to need to know how to interact with computers."
Many of Wong's peers agree. "Programming is becoming a basic skill," said sophomore Joon Kang. "The way tech is advancing, we are all going to need it. You cannot do anything with only coding, but you can connect it to every other subject."
Code.org organizes "Hour of Code," a one-hour introduction to computer science that aims to teach the basics of coding to anyone interested.
Holstein says events like an Hour of Code are important to get people underrepresented in computer science interested in the field. "If schools made an Hour of Code a requirement, everyone could try it out and they would have a better idea if it is something they like," she said. "It surprised me that I like coding, but now I've been doing it for four years, and I think I'll stick with it in college."
At Asheville School, students have the opportunity not only to take courses in computer science but also to pursue it through extracurricular activities.
Students can learn programming and engineering in robotics, a winter afternoon activity during which students design, build and program a robot in order to compete with other area teams. Asheville School's team is a FIRST FTC team. In the spring, students can take part in Asheville School's STEAM initiative – they explore microprocessors and collaborate with college professors in UNC-Asheville's STEAM Studio.
Asheville School also seeks to offer computer science education to a larger population through App Development Camp. The summer camp is open to all young people ages 13-18 who are interested in programming apps for iPhone and iPad with Swift, Apple's programing language.
"Over the past five years, Asheville School has invested more in STEM and computer science offerings, and we're beginning to see the benefits. Our robotics team that our Director of Technology started in 2011 has grown from a handful of members to a team of 12 members," said Bob Williams, Director of Communications and co-founder of the App Development Summer Camp. "It's unfortunate that a lot of people think you have to be a math genius to understand computer science. I truly believe that anyone can learn to code, and it's something more schools should emphasize. Computer science teaches you to think in a different way about a problem. We often see students in our app camp take different approaches to solving the same problem, and that's part of what I like about computer science. It teaches the importance of perseverance, collaboration and curiosity — critical skills the careers of the future will demand."