The University of Northern Iowa (UNI) has launched a program that will help teachers in the Hawkeye State receive their qualification to teach computer science in grades five through 12.

The nearly $1 million program, funded by the National Science Foundation (NSF), is taking applications for the initial cohort. The online program will begin in June 2023.

The first cohort will be comprised of up to 90 teachers who will go through an 18-month program made up of five computer science courses. A second cohort starting June 2024 will double to nearly 180.

Many of the K-12 teachers will be able to participate in the program at no cost or at a reduced cost due to scholarships stemming from the NSF grant funding.

“We really firmly believe we have a strong program,” said Ben Schafer, professor in the Department of Computer Science and program coordinator for UNI’s Computer Science Education program. “We think that the five courses we’ve built are well designed, well executed and really do help teachers become better computer science teachers.”

At the end of the 18 months, a recommendation will be made to the State Board of Educational Examiners for the participating teachers to receive their secondary computer science endorsements, qualifying them to teach computer science in elementary, middle, and high school.

The timing of the new program intentionally corresponds with the State of Iowa pushing for more computer science to be incorporated into K-12 education.

As a result of recent legislation, Iowa has a requirement in place that mandates state high schools to offer at least one computer science course per semester. Starting July 1, 2023, the requirement will go into place for every elementary school, and grades seven and eight as well.

“Computer science, as a discipline, is increasingly one of those things that every student should have at least a base familiarity with,” said Schafer.

He likened requiring computer science as part of education to the way that English, social studies, science, and math are required – they are all subjects people need to understand to be successful members of society.

UNI explained that in addition to the online lectures and coursework, teachers will participate in monthly face-to-face meetings facilitated by partners at their local Area Education Agencies – which Schafer said expands the program and offers it to more teachers throughout the state.

The program is taking applications until Jan. 31, 2023, with scholarship recipients set to be announced at the end of January.

“This is an incredible opportunity, and I am so very, very proud of the work that our team has put into making this happen and bringing this opportunity to the teachers in the state of Iowa,” said Schafer.