In Beaufort County, North Carolina, programmers are in high demand. Job forecasts conducted by local workforce development boards show a 94% growth rate for programming jobs among 27 eastern NC counties from 2016-2021; programming skills, along with tooling, machine and drone operation skills, have been among the most in-demand job skills listed by local and regional manufacturing businesses for three straight years.
When Beaufort County Schools (BCS) saw an opportunity to fund an extension of the district’s coding program into K-12 classrooms across the district and at the local community college, administrators didn’t hesitate to apply. Last fall, North Carolina Superintendent Mark Johnson announced that 16 school districts, including Beaufort County, had been awarded grants totaling $800,000 through the second round of the Coding and Mobile App Development Grant Program, which was launched in 2017 with funding from the state’s general assembly.
“BCS’s strategic STEM plan, the use of Digital Learning Competencies training, and the injection of real-world needs provided through our advisory process and partnerships with our local industries produced the perfect conditions for synergy around STEM including coding,” said Wendy Petteway, BCS Career and Technical Education Department Director. “We needed to expand beyond where we were and extend coding into K-12 across the district and at Beaufort County Community College, and the coding grant has provided the opportunity for that expansion.”
The Coding and Mobile App Development Grant has allowed BCS to expand an already successful program. Coding programs have been active for a year in two of the county’s five middle schools, where classes emphasize problem-solving, collaboration and creativity while enabling students to explore basic concepts of technology and design. Currently, students can expand on the skills they learned in these middle school programs at the Visual Performing Arts and Industrial Design Academy at BCS’s Washington High School or at Beaufort County Ed Tech Center.
Projects recently undertaken by high school coding program participants include a community food pantry design project, through which students used AutoCAD software to design a plan, then a CNC machine to code and cut out pieces. Students have also coded Sphero, a spherical robot capable of rolling around under the control of a smartphone or tablet, to produce art through technology.
Beaufort County Ed Tech Center’s pilot coding program has been so successful that last year, physical education instructor Amy Bennett received the 2018 Outstanding Educator Award from the North Carolina Science, Mathematics, and Technology Education Center.
“A year ago, I knew nothing of coding… I just went to a workshop and got my feet wet,” said Bennett, who teaches middle and high school students a variety of health and physical education classes – and now, coding. “Through STEM, these students are learning life skills such as problem solving or asking the right questions.”
The success of these programs, combined with the need demonstrated by local and regional manufacturing businesses, is what spurred BCS to apply for the Coding and Mobile App Development Grant. For the last three years, BCS worked regularly with a coalition of groups including Beaufort County Community College, the Beaufort County Economic Development Department and the Beaufort County Economic Director and the Region Q Workforce Investment Consortium. In that time, meetings were held regularly with individual manufacturing businesses as well as groups of small and large businesses, all of whom indicated a demand for programming.
With this grant, training opportunities like the one Bennett attended will soon be available to all K-12 teachers, so that coding classes and related programs can be offered at all BCS middle schools and high schools for the 2019-2020 academic year. BCS is also looking into credentialing students in Apple’s Swift coding language.
“The most rewarding part of implementing coding into my lesson plans has been watching the dynamic of the class transform,” said Emily Davis, a BCS instructor who has utilized grant-funded coding training. “Students who typically shy away from the spotlight are now the ones stepping up and helping to teach their friends. Coding is empowering these students by giving them a sense of confidence, learning in a way some of the other typically higher achieving students are not used to. It has been wonderful to watch the leadership roles changing.”
According to Petteway, BCS teachers have an estimated student population of 800-1,000 students engaged in learning to code and learning skills related to coding. By the end of the grant, the district aims to have trained instructors across the district from each school and at every grade span.
“Our program goals are to introduce students to coding as an essential skill that teaches problem-solving, develops teamwork and inspires creativity,” said Petteway. “The tools provided by the coding grant gives teachers and students access to resources designed to connect to a challenging and rewarding future.”
Timm Boettcher, Realityworks, Inc.
Timm Boettcher is the President and CEO of Realityworks, Inc., an education company that creates innovative learning tools for skills training. Passionate about the benefits of education-industry collaboration, Timm also chairs the Industry Workforce Needs Coalition, serves on the Board of Directors for Association of Career and Technical Education (ACTE) and chairs the Western Wisconsin Workforce Development Board.