Faced with an Indiana mandate that required districts to offer computer science, the Pike Township Metropolitan School District decided to expand a popular summer enrichment course into a school-wide computer science program. of the district for all students in kindergarten through 5th grade. As the district’s technology integration specialist, I knew that this rapid expansion of the program was not going to be easy. Our predominantly minority urban neighborhood has 11,000 students who speak 87 different languages. But I also knew that getting into a computer science program was worth it.
Developing student skillscontent knowledge and literacy in STEM fields are important “to meet the demands of a dynamic and evolving workforce,” says the U.S. Department of Education. I saw firsthand the benefits of introducing computer skills at a young age. I’ve seen students become fascinated with moving objects around on a computer on their own. And I’ve seen young girls get inspired to pursue careers in STEAM.
The benefits are obvious, but the path to get there is not so clear. I want to share how our district transformed a popular but small summer coding program into a thriving part of the year-round curriculum for all students. And we did it within our budget.
Choose the right IT tools
The first step in introducing computers to our students was choosing the right learning tools. Our librarians and teaching assistants started out using free resources and websites as their first foray into computing. Soon the staff discovered that it wasn’t quite enough for a full program.
Luckily, we found a computer science program offered by Codelicious that provided step-by-step instructions for our teachers. We started using it as an additional resource in our summer enrichment program, and now we use it as our K-5 computer science program.
We also use it to learn how to be safe online and to be a good digital citizen.
Start a collaboration
Expanding our computer science program to all elementary students had to be collaborative. Our instructors have varying levels of experience teaching computer science. Fortunately, the computer science curriculum is easy to understand, allowing all instructors to teach the new course effectively. Our teaching assistants and librarians didn’t have to spend hours writing, pacing, or aligning lessons to Indiana teaching standards. The program is already designed for them.
Although my job is to bridge the gap between the computer science curriculum and our instructors, our teaching assistants and librarians are empowered to manage most of the time on their own. The district did not have to hire new instructors to teach computer science. Instead, teachers, teaching assistants, librarians and I have collaborated, along with students, who are excited to learn more about computers.
As we were working on a tight budget, it was necessary to apply for grants to expand our program. To cover software costs, we applied for a STEM Accelerator Grant from the state Department of Education.
We used our pandemic recovery funding to meet our 1:1 technology goal for the first time. All students now have access to a Chromebook or other device, which has made it easier to launch our computer science program.
Foster student growth
When it comes to understanding computers and devices, it seems that children often feel more comfortable than adults. The interface is second nature to them, so many of them are excited to learn the secrets of how a computer works or how to create their favorite video game. By providing curriculum, time, and space for students to code, we nurture their curiosity and growth.
We’ve found that our students need the right tools to embrace coding. Our teaching assistants were able to provide these resources, while familiarizing themselves with the courses and the curriculum. Our students develop both technical and soft skills, such as teamwork when helping their friends or problem solving when they experience the emotional roller coaster of debugging their first program.
Continuing Professional Development
Our computer program is not stagnant. We are constantly looking for ways to improve and foster a more positive learning environment for our students, instructors and parents.
We hosted Parent University webinars and in-person workshops focused on digital citizenship, online safety for kids, and other computer-related topics. Codelicious’ professional development has also been a great resource to help our teachers feel ready to teach computer science. For students, we hosted a women in tech roundtable that introduced them to new female role models in STEM.
I recommend offering a variety of resources and learning opportunities to help your district meet the exciting challenge of IT.
Launching a full computer program for K-5 is not easy. But by expanding a popular program through collaboration, we’ve been able to offer our students an important new curriculum that will teach them the hard and soft skills they need to thrive. With strategies like smart resource organization, grants, and easy-to-use learning tools, schools can implement computer science programs, all without breaking the budget.
Audrey Cope is a district technology integration specialist at the Metropolitan School District in Pike Township, Indiana, who uses co-delicious to help teaching assistants, school librarians, students and parents learn about computing. Cope can be reached via E-mail.
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