Dozens of schools in North Central Washington will take part in activities this month to raise awareness about their investments in computer science education, by hosting events like the ‘Hour of Code’.

There are many reasons why educators across the nation are making Computer Science (CS) education a priority for students and families. For some, the need for CS education is a reflection of the economic opportunity and the development of essential workforce skills. That certainly rings true in North Central Washington, where CS skills can be seen in our energy production, agriculture, manufacturing and data center operations, just to name a few.

There are many more reasons for schools to offer CS education; it incorporates technology with computational thinking, collaboration, critical thinking and problem-solving skills. CS education can be meaningfully integrated into traditional primary disciplines like language arts, mathematics and science to enhance student development. It can also promote systems thinking, or the ability to understand and intervene in complex systems. And finally, CS education offers students another way to express themselves creatively and students learn that they can have a voice through the creation of new technologies, robotics, or other applications.

As a state, Washington has been working on policy to bolster computer science education. The Legislature adopted K-12 computer science learning standards for all public schools, and this past year passed statutes that will require public high schools to offer at least one computer science course.

Last year, 11 local schools offered evening ‘Hour of Code’ events in December. This year, nearly three times as many schools are opening their doors to welcome students, their families, and the public to take part in the coding events. This is a chance to connect with educators, and learn first-hand about the new ways students are learning.

The Hour of Code began as a one-hour coding challenge to give students and their families a fun first introduction to computer science. This event has become a global learning, celebration and awareness event. There is no experience needed to participate in an Hour of Code. There is no professional training needed. These events are supported in both Spanish and English and are free to the public.

Local principals, teachers, staff, parent-teacher organizations, and even student volunteers are working together to bring these events to life, and community partners Greater Wenatchee Area Technology Alliance (GWATA) and the Apple STEM Network have reached out to many local employers to find computer science professionals to visit each event and share with students and families how they use computer science skills on the job.

For a second year, the North Central Educational Service district has offered strategic planning and support for schools and educators, and Microsoft Tech Spark has generously provided resources and raffle prizes to help make the event a great experience for participants and is also helping to outreach to volunteers.

Community members are encouraged to follow up with local schools about the event closest to them for more details.

Sue Kane is the director of STEM Initiatives and Strategic Partnerships for the North Central Educational Service District.