Lincoln Public Schools has been a computer science champion since Hour of Code began in 2013. That year, the district won a $10,000 prize and ranked 4th in the world in terms of student participation. Five years later, the district in Lincoln, Nebraska continues to lead when it comes to expanding computer science to the district’s nearly 43,000 students and those in the surrounding areas.
Kent Steen, a curriculum specialist for the district, said Lincoln is fast becoming a tech hub of its own. He says the area between Lincoln, Omaha and Fargo is sometimes affectionately known as the “Silicon Prairie,” and that the combination of community interest, support from the superintendent and the district, and close partnerships with the business community has made expanding computer science teaching a priority for the last several years.
The district has a goal of “50/50 by 2020,” meaning CS classes should be comprised of an even split between male and female students. Steen describes the district’s goals as “purposeful,” and says teachers constantly discuss goals and go to great lengths to recruit students to CS classes, including bringing in guest speakers, frequently discussing famous women and people of color in CS, and having coaches of female sports teams encourage athletes to try CS. One teacher, he says, hand wrote 50 letters to girls she thought should take CS. “It really is such a team effort of so many people,” he says. “It isn’t just me, it’s been so many people helping in so many different ways.”
The district uses the Code.org curriculum in its K-12 CS classes, as well as other resources. Steen himself is a Code.org facilitator and frequently works with the area’s Regional Partner, the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. “Code.org has always been our foundation,” he says.
The district was recently awarded a $2 million grant from the National Science Foundation to fund CS training for K-8 teachers. Steen says the plan is to train teachers in their district and then replicate the training in other surrounding districts.