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December 21, 2009

Computer Science is in Middle School, you just need to know where to look

Two of my favorite bloggers, Brad Feld and Fred Wilson have recently written bemoaning the sorry state of affairs regarding computer science education at the K-12 levels in our country. Fred specifically wants to see programming in middle schools.  Both Fred and Brad are probably a little geekier then the population at large, but I agree with them. To be competitive in the world economy that today’s middle school students will compete in, they need a deeper, better foundation in computer science.

As the father of a son who will be attending middle school next year, I am probably a little more tuned in to what the schools are offering than either Fred or Brad.  Of course my expertise is focused more to my own area here in South Florida. 

I am proud to report that at least here in the Boca Raton area we are giving middle school kids a great foundation in computer science. Boca Raton you say? Must be some expensive private schools, right? Wrong. I am talking public schools here. Generally speaking Florida is not known for a great public school system (our public universities on the other hand are first rate). With so much of our budget dollars geared towards the senior population, historically the kids school budget suffered down here. But not anymore.

A few years back the Palm Beach public school system opened up what they call “choice programs” for middle schools. There are programs in hi tech, pre-engineering, pre-med, pre-law, math, science and technology, IB programs and a bunch of others. Students may apply to any school in the district for a specific choice program.

75px-Dehtmsdragoncrest[1] Here in Boca Raton we have three middle schools with excellent choice programs that my son is considering. One is the Don Estridge High Tech Middle School. The “Don” as it is called is a very popular choice with both boys and girls here. The high tech program includes not only proficiency in computer productivity applications, but also introductions to programming, hardware, networking, web design and video game programming. This is in addition to the regular curriculum that the students must take as well.  Kids come out of the Don and can continue their computer science education at any number of local high schools in the area. Here are links to the course descriptions for 6th and 7th grade at the Don.

Besides Don Estridge ,of the other middles schools in Boca that my son is considering one offers a great pre-engineering class with great hands on civil engineering and CAD instruction. Another offers a great medical science program with an emphasis on forensics. Sort of like CSI Boca. The kids are given clues and need to solve crimes. A trip to the morgue is a “highlight” of the program.

So if it is being done here in Boca Raton, I am sure it is on the agenda in other areas as well. I do think our schools are responding to the realities of the world that their students will live in. Of course budget cuts and such make it difficult. God knows our teachers are not paid enough for the important job they are tasked with. We could do a lot better across the board. But there are great choices out there for kids if you know where to look!

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