How to Attract Students to Computer Science

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  • Steve Ehren
    CSTA Member - Homewood-Flossmoor High School
    Flossmoor, Illinois

Our school offers multiple computer science courses, including AP Computer Science A. Attracting students to high school computer science courses is a yearlong endeavor. At Homewood-Flossmoor High School in Flossmoor, Illinois, I have been able to attract a fairly large number of students to computer science courses through several activities, and I recommend the following:

Use the Annual Open House

Homewood-Flossmoor is a public high school in the south suburbs of Chicago. It has an enrollment of approximately 3,000 students.

In early December, the school holds an open house for eighth-graders and their parents. Every department puts together a booth that the students can visit. I demonstrate some of the programs that my students wrote the year before. (I make sure to give my past students credit for the projects I am demonstrating.) These programs might include graphics and animation projects as well as dice and card games. I allow the prospective students to sit in front of the computer and play the games.

I demonstrate at least one program for each language we teach. I also provide each interested student with a handout with detailed descriptions of each course as well as a list of reasons for taking computer science in high school. I usually distribute close to 100 handouts at this event.

Present AP to Students and Parents

After winter break, the school invites a college admission officer and several past and present AP students to talk to a group of prospective AP students about the advantages of taking AP courses. We invite all 8th- through 11th-grade students and their parents to this event. The group of former students should be diverse and representative of your school population. It is very beneficial for perspective students to hear the opinions of their peers when considering whether or not to try a computer science course. Whether former students are presenting to a group of students, or just talking to their friends, your current and former students can be your best recruitment asset.

After a main session where our speakers address the whole crowd, we have breakout sessions. I always give a presentation on AP Computer Science. I highlight the computer science curriculum offered and our courses and talk about the benefits of taking it in high school. I usually distribute close to 75 handouts at this event.

Meet with Your School Counselors

Every year before registration begins for the following year, our school counselors meet with the chairs from each department. I join the meeting with the math chair and explain what our courses are like and stress that all students could benefit from taking a computer science course. It is important to let counselors know that you have an open access policy when it comes to computer science. Counselors welcome this meeting.

Communicate with Administration

My computer science students participate in a number of extracurricular activities. These activities include the American Computer Science League contests, ACT-SO (Academic, Cultural, Technological, and Scientific Olympics) computer science competitions, and the Technical Ambassadors Competition held by the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

Whenever a student or a team of students excels in one of these competitions, I immediately email my department chair, the principal, the district’s public relations director, and the superintendent with the results. The principal will usually include the results in his monthly publication, which is distributed to the entire faculty. I also inform our parents’ organization of the results, and they usually include it in their quarterly publication.

Solicit the Help of Department Members

The day we return to school from winter break, about six weeks before registration, I put a packet of information on computer science in my math colleagues’ mailboxes. It contains my handouts and also a small computer science poster that teachers can display in their classrooms. But most important, it contains a letter requesting their assistance in promoting the computer science courses. The letter specifically asks them to encourage all their math students who have successfully completed Algebra I to consider enrolling in a computer science course.

I sometimes present some of the work of my computer science students at department meetings. When I get this opportunity, I like to show the students’ graphics and animation projects. The work tends to be amusing and can keep the teachers entertained for 10 to 15 minutes. I promote our computer science courses and explain to my colleagues what we do in the courses.