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Free Tools For Teaching Technology

IBM and the Computer Science Teachers Association make available free coursework and teaching tools to interest high school students in technology

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IBM and the Computer Science Teachers Association are offering free tools to help make learning tech skills fun for high school students and get more kids thinking early about pursuing careers in IT.

The joint effort, in which CSTA and IBM co-developed customized courseware and tools, is part of IBM's Academic Initiative, a program launched in 2004 to help educators use and implement open source and open standard technologies in their curricula.

The offering, which is free via the Internet to the nation's 36,000 high school teachers who teach computer science and related subjects, includes lesson plans, presentations, guidebooks, and topic overviews to incorporate concepts of programming and Web design into computer science courses, as well as into core math and science classes.

The first three modules are object-oriented programming concepts, in which students use Java to design computer games; Web page design and development using a storyboard application; and project-based learning to enhance teachers' skills in getting students working together in project teams.


Pong--not unlike business, actually.


Pong--not unlike business, actually.

"These tools don't tell the teachers what to teach, but they're a resource to enhance their skills and put tools into the hands of students," says Chris Stephenson, executive director of CSTA. "The key is making the resources fun in building games and designing Web sites, but not lacking in rigor."

"Most Java books are for college students, so making Java more relevant to high school students isn't easy," says Brenda Jolley, a computer science and French teacher at Sumner Academy of Arts and Science, an eighth- to 12th-grade magnet school in Kansas City, Kan. Jolley participated in the pilot and used the Java tools to help students learn the core principles involved in object-oriented programming. Students used Java to design and enhance a version of Pong, the classic computer-based pingpong game.

"They got to see what goes into even the simplest of games, and the kids had a lot of fun trying to enhance it, like adding a third paddle," she says. "This was the kids' first exposure to programming, and it really helped them to understand it better."

It's also attracting more attention. Last semester, 12 kids signed up for the class; 28 students already have signed up for the class next year.

Enrollment of computer science majors at colleges has been falling in recent years, and this will create a shortage of IT talent in the United States in the years to come, says Mark Hanny, VP of IBM's Academic Initiative. Already, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts that jobs requiring science, engineering, and technical training will increase 51% through 2008, creating 6 million jobs for scientists, engineers, and technicians.

Hanny expects great demand for IT pros, such as systems integrators and business analysts, and also a need for solid tech skills in jobs that aren't traditionally technical in nature. "Product management and marketing jobs rely on databases, data mining, and product-segmentation skills," he says. "Even nursing schools are adapting" their curricula to incorporate technology skills.

About the Author(s)

Marianne Kolbasuk McGee

Senior Writer, InformationWeek

Marianne Kolbasuk McGee is a former editor for InformationWeek.

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