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SF Educators Explore Computer Science Scope

Kealey Bultena

Educators in Sioux Falls say they want computer science classes to equip kids with technology skills and context in the digital community. The Sioux Falls School District implemented a new curriculum one year ago; that move ended keyboarding classes for students in the 6th, 7th, and 8th grades.

Middle school curriculum coordinator Sandy Henry says in the spring the district assessed 1,140 sixth graders. She says the average they could type was 23 words per minute.

"So when you think of an average of a big group like that, you’re going to have kids that are very, very, very proficient. They’re way above proficient," Henry says. "We did have a few that were struggling a little bit, but overall they’re exceeding the 6th grade words per minute on the former technology standards. They don’t even talk about words per minute anymore."

Henry says new standards emphasize how much students can type in one session, not how quickly they keyboard. Middle school students in Sioux Falls learn website design and computer code instead of having dedicated time to develop typing skills.

Sue McAdaragh says keyboarding classes start in the third grade. McAdaragh coordinates curriculum for elementary schools. She says teachers introduce the “right” way to type, but they are less concerned with a precise method of keyboarding and more focused on helping students communicate effectively.

"What can we do to provide the kids the best background in how to do that? We’re not grading a child down, for example, and saying ‘you’re not successful’ if they don’t have exactly the same [typing technique]," McAdaragh says. "That is not something we’re spending a lot of time on anymore, because there are so many other things in the realm of technology that kids are able to do and are learning to do."

McAdaragh says teachers are less likely to micromanage keyboarding style, because students need direction in other areas of technology.

District superintendent Brian Maher says educators still use metrics like words-per-minute to measure typing, but he says computer science is broader than keyboarding. He says it includes fluency in social media.

"What is texting? What is tweeting? What is whatsapp? What is snapchat? What is dot dot dot," Maher says. "So all of those latest and greatest innovations in technology but also the ethics that it goes on to use those things. I think all of those things go into the conversation regarding computer science implementation."

Maher says helping students understand appropriate and respectful conduct through technology is part of teaching kids to be good digital citizens. 

View the latest report provided to the Sioux Falls School Board at this link.