Why we need to open computer
science courses for more students.
Jane Margolis, Joanna Goode,
and Jean J. Ryoo
Ahigh school computer science class begins with students divided into groups, writing instructions for making a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. One group of “programmers” goes first,
reading instructions to the “computer” (fellow students) for making the sandwich. But a “programming
error” occurs: The computer cannot operate because
the “algorithm” (instructions) did not specify taking
off the lid of the peanut butter as an initial step.
Student laughter ensues. Computers are dumb!
The process begins again, with a revised sequence
of instructions. But the computer spreads the peanut
butter on the table because the algorithm did not
specify to spread it on the bread. Whoops and hollers
everywhere: Computer science can be fun! All students are engaged.
So begins an early lesson in Exploring Computer Science
(ECS), an introductory high school computer science
course supported by the National Science Foundation
( www.exploringcs.org). ECS’s mission is to demystify
computer science by introducing students to the fundamental concepts of the field. Students learn about human-computer interaction, problem solving, web design,
programming, data analysis and computing, and robotics.
Throughout all units, students learn to use computing
skills in ways that are meaningful for themselves and their
An Equity Imperative
Computer science is generally identified with a narrow
stratum of our student population, but all students today
need to learn about it because computers are changing
how we communicate, innovate, work, play, and think—
regardless of career choice. Computer science relies on
problem solving and computational practices that are
important for everyone. These include using abstractions;
automating; creating algorithms; collecting and analyzing
data; implementing, testing, and debugging designs; and
engaging in creative, critical, and innovative thinking.
Despite its growing importance, computer science
is on the sidelines in our schools. The primary