In an increasingly digital and electronic world, certain skills are convenient, or perhaps even necessary, that might not have been considered 10 years ago.
Earlier this month, it was announced that a panel of Wisconsin experts consisting of teachers, school leaders and higher education representatives were drafting standards for computer science in an ongoing process to define knowledge and skills that students should learn during their pre-K through 12th grade public education.
The Elmbrook School District is doing its best to be ahead of the curve from teachers and administrators all the way down to students.
Upswing in classes
Brookfield Central High School computer science teacher Ryan Osterberg has seen a definite increase in the interest in taking courses up his alley in recent years.
“It kind of grows every single year. I’ve been at Brookfield Central for 20 years now and we started with nothing and have greatly expanded our offerings as far as computer science is concerned,” Osterberg said.
This year, Osterberg and his colleagues are offering courses ranging from Web Design and Mobile Applications to Advanced Game Development and Object Oriented Programming.
“I made a partnership with Marquette University for the last three years to get our kids into a course called Data Structures,” Osterberg said. “They were pretty much the only high school students in the state of Wisconsin taking that course.”
The pedigree of programming has manifested itself in recent years, especially through an annual programming competition at MSOE.
In November, a combined team of Brookfield East and Brookfield Central students won the competition for the third year running. The team of Brookfield East seniors Suchir Bhatt and Tim Vrakas and Brookfield Central junior Dan Anderson and senior David Harmeyer were one of only six squads sent from the Elmbrook district.
“I think we had six teams go this year. We had some all East teams, all Central teams, all female teams,” Osterberg said.
Harmeyer has been more than appreciative for his school’s offerings in his field of interest.
“Personally, I think that computer science and solvable games and game theory is something that everyone should have to know to graduate,” Harmeyer said. “It’s so helpful in math classes, science classes and just general knowledge. I think it’s something that everyone should know.”
Harmeyer first took an interest in computer science four years ago when his mother sent him to a summer camp that had a computer science class.
“Our teachers introduced us to it and I really wanted to do more and I got really good at it,” Harmeyer said.
Computer science is at the top of Harmeyer’s plans in regard to both his major in college and his career afterward. He already has a website where he posts games that he has created.
“As a programmer I use so much of the stuff that I’ve learned, like problem-solving skills,” Harmeyer said.
Rare in high schools
Osterberg pointed out that even with increased awareness of the importance of computers in today’s society, Elmbrook is among the minority in its range of curriculum.
“Computer science at a high school level is not actually common these days. It’s offered at only about 5 percent of high schools in the state of Wisconsin,” Osterberg said. “At an AP level, there’s really only about 3 percent of high schools that offer advanced level courses.”
Elmbrook is already looking to stay ahead of the game with plans to offer a pair of advanced placement computer science courses.
Harmeyer, who plans to attend Carnegie Melon University, the University of Central Florida, or UW-Madison, pointed to recent suspicions regarding the 2016 presidential election as proof that the United States needs to prioritize computer science.
“Regardless of what you think politically, what has happened with perhaps Russia, perhaps someone else, has shown that the United States really needs to get our butts in gear as far as cyber security is concerned,” Harmeyer said. “We need more computer scientists.”