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For More High-Tech Learning, Teach the Teachers

PHOTO: Oregon schools are sending 15 teams to an upcoming 13-state regional robotics championship. Computer science teachers are asking the Legislature to fund more teacher training and expand STEM programs for students. Photo credit: Richard I. Hetzler
PHOTO: Oregon schools are sending 15 teams to an upcoming 13-state regional robotics championship. Computer science teachers are asking the Legislature to fund more teacher training and expand STEM programs for students. Photo credit: Richard I. Hetzler
March 11, 2015

SHERWOOD, Ore. - President Obama this week launched a new initiative called TechHire, asking communities and companies to find new ways to recruit and train workers in technology fields.

In some Oregon public schools, that's already under way.

One in seven Oregon schools offers computer coding classes; a handful teach Web and game design as well as robotics. The Oregon Computer Science Teachers Association is backing legislation to increase those numbers.

"We feel that it's our social responsibility to provide this kind of training for students," said Terrel Smith, a computer science instructor at Sherwood High School. "If they learn these high-tech skills in high school, they're way ahead of the game, because so many students don't have those opportunities."

Smith, who also teaches "tech" topics to other teachers, said there has been a renewed focus on science and math in schools, but not so much in technology or engineering - the other two letters in the "STEM" acronym.

The bill in Salem doesn't have a number yet, but includes funding for summer technology workshops for teachers across the state. Smith said the idea has bipartisan support. Teachers want to learn, he said, and they see the need for more high-tech courses for tomorrow's workforce - but in many districts, funding is still a problem.

"We show 'em how to do it if they're willing to give it a shot," he said. "And right now, administrators are a little gun-shy because they don't know if there'll be sustainable funding; they're not enthusiastic about starting new things yet. But when they are, they know who to go to."

Smith said the other concern in developing tech learning is to ensure it serves all types of kids. Often, he said, robotics and other fun challenges are dominated by boys or by students from higher-income homes and districts. He thinks teaching more teachers will mean greater opportunity for a wider spectrum of kids.

Initial information about the TechHire program is online at whitehouse.gov.

Chris Thomas, Public News Service - OR