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No CS Student Left Behind

December 16, 2011 | By Microsoft blog editor

Students try out TouchDevelopComputer Science Education Week (CSEdWeek), which took place this year from December 4 to 10 in the United States, is a celebration of computer science education. And while it’s a great idea to devote a week to recognizing the importance of this field, it’s a topic that demands year-round attention all over the world. That’s why we at Microsoft Research Connections have partnered with the Kent (Washington) School District to provide ongoing support for students and teachers at the district’s tech academies.

Together, we are working to generate enthusiasm among Kent students for careers in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math). We chose the Friday before the beginning of CSEdWeek to kick off the partnership with a daylong event designed to reach every seventh- through twelfth-grader at Kent’s two tech academy campuses. Microsoft Research participants included an expert on interaction, media, and visualization browsing; an earth systems scientist (and former NASA employee); as well as a software engineer, a mechanical engineer, and the author of books about quantum mechanics and relativity. These dedicated researchers spent the day teaching how to use Microsoft technology tools (including TouchDevelop and WorldWide Telescope), tutoring on math and science topics, and presenting information about careers in research. Our overarching goal was to help students understand that many of the most difficult problems in the world can be solved by computer science and to excite them about the great career opportunities in STEM.

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We strongly encouraged the students to continue their computer science education when they attend college. The U.S. Department of Labor projects that between 2008 and 2018, 1.4 million computing jobs will have opened in the United States. If current graduation rates continue, only 61 percent of these jobs could be filled by U.S. computing degree-earners—a figure that drops to 29 percent when only computing bachelor’s degrees are included (source: NCWIT). This is why CSEdWeek is important on a national level in the United States.

At the personal level, CSEdWeek and projects like our partnership with the Kent Technology Academy expose students to critical thinking and problem-solving skills that are vital to success in the digital age. Through our efforts to reach K-12 students, we are striving to generate enthusiasm for computing careers, which are not only exciting, plentiful, and financially rewarding, but most importantly, provide an opportunity to tackle some of the world’s greatest challenges.

The classroom visits on December 2 were just the beginning of our partnership with the Kent School District, the fourth largest and one of the most diverse in the state of Washington. Throughout the year, various team members from Microsoft Research will conduct presentations to help the students better understand careers in research and technology. And this spring, the academy’s seventh- and ninth-graders will visit Microsoft Research to see the researchers in their “native habitat.” Additionally, some students will work on using TouchDevelop to create applications for the Windows Phone 7, while others will learn about game programming via a visual object-oriented programming tool called Kodu.

We look forward to celebrating computer science education year round!

Judith Bishop, Director of Computer Science at Microsoft Research Connections, and Rane Johnson, Director of Education and Scholarly Communication at Microsoft Research Connections

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