Pioneering districts in the League of Innovative Schools are at the forefront of incorporating computer science education in K-12. Digital Promise recently started a working group for the League as a forum to share best practices and address challenges in implementing computer science. From this group, we’ve gathered insights on what the computer science movement looks like in these districts.
In the contexts of job preparedness and everyday engagement, many educators consider proficiency in computer science and computational thinking as valuable for students. Elizabeth Forward School District leaders, for example, knew it was time to innovate when local employers informed them the district had hundreds of entry-level jobs that needed computational skills in order to be filled.
Districts leaders also found giving students opportunities to be creative, innovative, and in control of their own work was important. Vancouver Public Schools (VPS) Director of Technology Mark Ray stated, “When students can control and build something and have an opportunity to have a small amount of control, it is powerful for engagement in school and as individuals.” VPS students have access to diverse courses such as Python, robotics, and electronic applications, to name a few. The Python courses have supported students transitioning into International Baccalaureate (IB) and Advanced Placement (AP) pathways and exist at all three high schools. These efforts excite students and provide them pathways to further develop their passions.
Districts are also finding a natural integration between computational thinking and maker learning. Elizabeth Forward, for example, implemented middle school-level robotics to engage students in maker learning and activate their imaginations before they begin advanced computer science coursework in high school. Districts are developing what is appropriate for students at each grade level and working to design strategic visions for meaningful integration. For instance, in East Irondequoit Central School District, second grade students take an interdisciplinary approach to learning computational thinking and fifth grade students begin learning the basics of programming.
This integration has helped students make connections between computer science and the physical world around them. South Fayette Township School District Director of Technology and Innovation Aileen Owens stated, “We build in the opportunity to code a robotic device because they [students] were thinking of them [coding and robotics] as separate items. … Now we combine everything we do with objects and the ability to have an emotional connection with a device.”
Community and family support is also important for building students’ computer science skills. For instance, Indian Prairie School District held a four-hour Maker Day to garner community support for computational thinking and maker learning in elementary schools. After the events, parents had a better understanding of why the district was implementing these programs as early as kindergarten.
Owens from South Fayette shared that in her district, students advocate for computer science by going to conferences and finding ways to connect their experiences to curriculum. The district has also held “coding nights” where parents learned how to code along with students. As students progress and begin to make new products and earn awards, the community further supports their success. South Fayette students have continued to develop an app to promote school bus safety and won awards such as the Congressional STEM App Challenge and the National Infosys Maker Award.
Leaders are interested in supporting other districts implementing similar shifts towards computer science education by creating opportunities to share resources and attend expert webinars.
To learn more about the work districts are doing in computer science and why they are doing it, check out the working group webinar.