Korean educators visit Charles County Public Schools
Look for ways to learn from, collaborate with system on computer science education
A group of educators and instruction specialists from the Republic of Korea (South Korea) engaged in a wide-ranging discussion last week with Charles County Public Schools officials regarding computer science education.
“It appears you are doing an excellent job, and we would like to work with you so that we can improve our program and help you also,” Kapcheon Shin, a Korean teacher and board director for the Association of Teachers in Computing, said through an interpreter.
The Korean representatives were part of the International Visitor Leadership Program and were visiting the United States to learn more about its computer science and software education, said CCPS spokeswoman Shelley Mackey. Mackey said the National Science Foundation recommended they visit Charles County due to its efforts to expand computer science education, which the NSF, which has partnered with CCPS, learned more about during a “CS4All”
presentation to officials in the spring of 2016.
Kimberly Hill said that when she became superintendent of CCPS in 2013, one of her first goals was to improve access and education in technology.
“I said, we need to move forward in STEM [Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics] education, and the next step in STEM education in Charles County was computer science,” Hill said.
As part of that initiative, computer science concepts were infused into the curriculum at all grade levels and all schools.
“What sets us apart from other districts in Maryland is that we are one of the first to have really, truly integrated computer science throughout all three levels [elementary, middle and high school],” said Traci Chappelear, coordinator of career and technology education for CCPS.
Chappelear said elementary school students have 50 minutes of computer class once per week; in addition, computer science and computational thinking are integrated across all subject areas, using Bee Bots, robotics and Code.org activities, amongst others.
Dongjin Shin, deputy director of the Ministry of Education, said through an interpreter that in Korea, computer science education begins around fifth grade.
“Is it appropriate to expose the children at such a young age?” Dongjin Shin asked.
Hill said even the youngest students are ready for education in computational thinking.
“Research has shown that as early as age 4, children are beginning to be able to navigate multistep directions and processes,” Hill said. “Children are able, but we weren’t providing them the exposure to this type of instruction.”
Rebecca Pearson, career and technology education specialist, said involving students at a young age helped open their minds to fields they might not otherwise have considered.
“We wanted to grab students before they’d made their minds up about what they’re good at and not good at,” Pearson said.
In middle school, computer science is integrated in science and algebra courses, as well as arts, with instruction in digital literacy, cybersecurity and other topics, Chappelear said.
In high school, students are required to take courses to fulfill a technology education credit for graduation. There is also a computer science completer pathway.
“Every single student is graduating with a foundational knowledge in computer science,” Chappelear said.
Insoon Seo, a teacher at Osan Information High School, said that in Korea, computer science programs are specific to science or gifted and talented high schools.
“We don’t have just one school that has computer science, or one level that has computer science, it’s in all of our schools for all of our children,” Hill said.
In addition, there are during and after school clubs in computer coding and robotics at all grade levels, said Simone Young, CCPS coordinator of STEM education.
The goal, Hill said, was not to produce “26,000 computer scientists,” but to provide access to computational thinking and technology skills to meet the varied career demands of the 21st centur y.
“I believe that the skills that you learn in computer science are applicable across all subject areas,” Hill said. “When you learn computer science, you learn about logic, you learn about critical thinking, you learn about perseverance and the ability to break a problem down into small pieces and to work together to solve that problem.”
Hyun Kim, deputy director with the Ministry of Science, ICT and Future Planning, said through a translator that he hoped there would be more opportunities for collaboration with CCPS.
“We thought, before we came here, we in Korea were doing the best job, but we have a lot to learn from you,” Kim said. “We’d like to discuss ways to exchange and expand our computer science classes and computational skills classes and establish some sort of a partnership so we can continue to learn from each other.”
Hill said the discussion was a wonderful exchange between adults, but she would like to see it extend to include students as well in the future.
“Wouldn’t it be wonderful if our students here, and our students in Korea, could maybe once a quarter have a Skype session, or telepresence, or some sort of engagement with each other?” Hill suggested.
Charles County Public Schools Superintendent Kimberly Hill addresses a group of South Korean educators regarding computer science initiatives within the school system.