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East Ridge chosen to pilot new STEM course

East Ridge High School continues to bring its students into the digital age.

The school was chosen as one of 50 from across the United States to pilot a new course, computer science and software engineering, as part of its Project Lead the Way engineering program.

The course will go into effect for the 2013-2014 school year.

Project Lead The Way (PLTW) is a national provider of science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) curriculum and professional development.

"It's really much needed," said East Ridge math teacher Donald Winston, who will be teaching the course. "It's just introducing them to the world of computer science and all of the things it has to offer."

Winston, who currently teaches the digital electronics PLTW course said he was approached by PLTW about piloting the new course because he expressed support for the class through message boards.

"I posted a comment out on the forum saying that I thought this would be a great course because it addresses the need of getting more and more students interested in the area of computer science," he said. "There's a great demand for more (computer science) professionals."

The computer science and software engineering course will be offered by all PLTW engineering programs in the 2014-2015 school year.

Development and application

Winston said the new class will be divided into two areas - development and application.

The first half of the class will teach students how to write code in order to develop programs or applications.

"The big thing is that it aims to develop computational thinking," he said. "It teaches them how to put together some code to accomplish specific tasks."

Students will develop such programs as simple animations, simple games, image manipulations, smartphone applications for Android, Web development and how to create, add information to and retrieve information from databases.

"It's pretty much left up to them though," Winston said. "We let their creativity run wild."

The second half of the class will relate to the application of those programs in various business fields such as business, politics and even biological sciences.

"The course is going to expose students to working with computers and working with software in various disciplines in order to understand how important it is," he said. "Students need to understand how important computer science is to so many other areas."

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, 50 percent of the 1.4 million job openings in STEM through 2018 will be for computer specialists.

Winston said he is excited about the new course next year since it is something that has been severely lacking in high school curriculum.

"It's a class that has been long overdue," he said.

Understanding computers and computer science will only become more important in the future, Winston said, so it's important to help students understand it now.

"We live in a digital society," he said. "If you don't have an Internet presence, you're at a loss."

Amber Kispert-Smith

Amber Kispert-Smith has been the schools and Afton reporter at the Woodbury Bulletin since 2008. She holds a bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Minnesota. She previously worked as a reporter for Press Publications in White Bear Lake.

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