By Dan Matthews
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Discussing careers with students can be challenging. After all, a lot of weight is often placed upon the subject. As a teacher, you're expected to provide insights into potential careers that empower students to thrive beyond school.
In this regard, computer science can be a great area of discussion and exploration. It has increasing relevance in the current digital landscape. There is also a growing number of professions it can be applied to. These factors, among others, can make it an important consideration. Indeed, it is part of the reason that it is imperative to teach computer science in schools. Yet, it has something of a dry reputation. Students who may not be inclined toward the science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) subjects run the risk of missing out on careers that enrich their adult lives.
So, how can you best go about setting students up for careers in computer science? Let’s take a closer look at some areas of consideration.
Why Encourage Computer Science Careers?
There is a whole raft of possibilities for professional exploration out there. So, why should you be encouraging students toward computer science? It's not just because it is relevant to our current digital age, but it’s also a growing field. This means that there are likely to be enriching opportunities for careers with longevity for the foreseeable future. Students who eventually go on to gain computer science degrees can use their comprehensive understanding of coding and network architecture to contribute to industries as diverse as cybersecurity and healthcare.
But when discussing the potential for careers with students, it’s not just important to focus on the jobs themselves. It’s also vital to discuss how computer science knowledge can combine with kids’ other talents and personal interests. This can help them to be innovative contributors in any field they choose to enter. If they have a passion for filmmaking, you can introduce them to the various ways in which digital technology is continuing to push the art form. Artificial intelligence (AI) is being utilized in visual effects. Coding helps to make computer-generated animation more engaging.
However, it’s also worth bearing in mind it’s not just students that benefit from computer science. The field needs them too. This is especially the case with students from more diverse backgrounds. As a teacher, your ability to nurture your students toward STEM is instrumental in tackling the accessibility, race, and gender gaps that persist in computer science. The field needs their perspectives, and it needs them to be leaders and influencers in industries to boost innovation.
Approaches for Younger Students
Obviously, it’s not always appropriate to introduce younger students to computer science as a potential career. Even if they have some concept about the kind of profession they want to pursue, this is very likely to change a couple of times in the near future. As such, it’s important to approach computer science as an opportunity to make discoveries. It's a way to understand the world they live in a little better and have some fun.
Choose activities that reflect their everyday lives and the technology they’re familiar with. Games are a particularly good example here. Platforms such as Scratch Jr. and Kodable introduce students to the basics of coding, and how it is used to perform functions within a game setting. You can structure this around project-based classwork. Have them work in teams to utilize their various talents to create the most fun game they can. Along the way, they'll also grasp the basics of computer science.
Alongside their in-class assignments, it’s a good idea to work with parents to arrange attendance at coding camps and robotics clubs. These can be short after school and weekend programs or take weeks during the summer. They guide students through the theory and practice of programming. This is applied to games, software, robotics production and operation, and websites. For parents on low incomes, many also offer scholarships to ensure students have equal opportunities to engage. Perhaps the most important role of these camps is that they introduce students to other kids that share similar interests. As such, they help students forge bonds that can keep their passion for computer science alive and thriving.
Getting Teens Involved
When it comes to teenagers, it can be wise to take a more lifestyle-oriented approach. Yes, it’s wise to frame this with careers but also in how the types of paths they can pursue can improve the quality of their adult lives. For instance, with students who crave travel, it can be helpful to talk them through how they can live and work abroad. Help students to do their homework on what types of companies may be hiring. Encourage them to develop skills that can improve their chances of employment in other countries. Talk them through potential language requirements and the logistics of the visa process. This can then lead to a conversation about how computer science expertise is in demand in industries across the globe. It can also be worth taking them through exercises on how they can market their abilities in computer science to potential employers.
Above all else, this approach should be about empowerment. For most teenagers, there is a sense that they want to take on greater personal responsibility and prove that they are capable of independence. Indeed, a majority of Gen Zers are harboring ambitions to be business owners. As such, it may be wise to help them to understand how computer science can help them become independent entrepreneurs. Introduce them to the practice of building apps. Show them computer science’s place in data analysis. Provide examples of how AI programs are currently being utilized to optimize processes for efficiency.
There are few aspects of the way we live our lives that aren’t impacted or enhanced by computer science in some way. As such, the careers that students pursue are likely to require some knowledge in the area. Don't just focus on the theory. Show the practical and life-improving applications of the field. This way you can help keep students meaningfully engaged with it.