Students test their skills during at STEM class at Blessed Maria Assunta Pallotta Middle School in Waterloo. (Courtesy Christine Bailey)

In the summer of 2021, Christine Bailey, a teacher at Blessed Maria Assunta Pallotta Middle School in Waterloo, was about to begin a workshop to learn how to teach computer science, and she was nervous.

“Even though I’ve been a science teacher and our school is a one-to-one school, I had no experience with computer science,” Bailey said.

“I wasn’t sure what I was getting myself into.”

As a result of state legislation passed in 2020, all schools in Iowa will be required to teach computer science standards by 2023. Preparing for this new requirement has put pressure on school districts and teachers alike, leaving many educators feeling just as Bailey did.

“Most K-12 educators do not have an extensive background in computer science,” said Aaron Horn, executive director at NewBoCo, a Cedar Rapids-based nonprofit focused on entrepreneurship, innovation and tech education.

That’s why in 2016 NewBoCo began a partnership with Code.org, a national not-for-profit, to offer professional development workshops to train current teachers how to teach computer science.

“Through proven professional development and their hard work, any teacher from anywhere in the state can equip themselves with the skills necessary to prepare their students for the careers of tomorrow,” Horn said.

That was Bailey’s experience.

“I was so surprised by how confident I felt with computer science after the training,” Bailey recalled.

Last year alone, 150 Iowa teachers participated in NewboCo’s training program.

Educators who participated in the year-long programs started with a week-long intensive training over the summer. This prepared them to start the school year.

Additional workshops throughout the academic year supported them as they implemented the curriculum, and provided opportunities for them to connect with peers in the program.

Since the program began, more than 400 middle and high school teachers have participated, and these teachers have gone on to teach more than 18,000 students a computer science class.

Increased support for computer science professional development this year is available through the state of Iowa’s Computer Science Curriculum and Professional Development Grants.

The increased funding comes from $3,700,000 of a 2007 court-approved settlement of a class-action antitrust lawsuit against Microsoft Corp. being designated for K-12 CS curriculum for students and training for educators. NewBoCo offers three of the nine curricula and training approved for this funding.

So far, more than 500 K-12 educators in Iowa have indicated interest in attending a NewBoCo training on computer science this year, thanks to partnerships with the nine Area Education Agencies, six STEM regions and individual districts.

“We are proud to be bringing computer science professional development to even more Iowa schools,” said Samantha Dahlby, director of K-12 Education at NewBoCo.

“With our high-quality development options and a network of local teachers to learn along with, we can create a culture of excellence in CS education across all of Iowa’s schools.”

For Bailey, this training allowed her to unlock a new level of confidence not only in herself, but also in her students.

“What really made the difference for me was seeing how excited my students were about computer science,” she said.

“They loved learning this subject, and I am so grateful that I can teach and learn with them.”

Molly Monk is the grants and proposals specialist for NewBoCo.

Students at Blessed Maria Assunta Pallotta Middle School create scenes out of cardboard. (Courtesy Christine Bailey)

Students learn to code using a micro:bit kit. (Courtesy Christine Bailey)