Inspiring Innovation in Talladega Through an Integrated Computational Thinking Pathway – Digital Promise

Inspiring Innovation in Talladega Through an Integrated Computational Thinking Pathway

Four white female students and one adult male stand in front of a white board that they are writing on.

June 2, 2023 | By and

Near the entrance of Drew Middle School in Talladega, Alabama, you will find a large wooden board covered in colorful yarn and push pins labeled “family” or “STEM.” At first glance, the board displays connections between the words, with the threads of yarn grouping around words like “sports” or “social media.” Upon closer inspection, you will find a guide outlining that the board is a data map—or a visual representation—of what students of Drew Middle School identify as important in their lives. Each color of yarn represents sources of thought, chance, happiness, and creativity. You’ll notice layers of purple yarn wrapped around words like “singing” or “dancing,” which represents what makes students happy, or pink yarn by “art” and “cooking,” to show how students create.

This data collection and visualization practice is an unplugged example of computational thinking (CT), an interrelated set of skills and practices—including algorithmic thinking, abstraction, automation, computational modeling, data practices, decomposition, debugging, pattern recognition, and selecting tools—that support problem solving and equip students to participate in an increasingly computational world. Across the district, students are engaging with CT activities on devices, in their English and history classes, in science and math, when they visit the library, and in their health science elective. Importantly, CT skills and practices are not confined to a single computer science elective or afterschool activity; they are embedded across the curriculum in every course students take.

Computational Thinking in Action

As superintendents, district leaders, and education champions gathered in Alabama for the League of Innovative Schools Spring 2023 Convening last month, they observed dozens of examples of computational thinking skills and practices modeled in classrooms across Talladega’s Munford and Lincoln campuses. At Lincoln Elementary School, Karin Woodruff, the school’s technology integration specialist and STEAM teacher and coach, led student activities in STEAM Lab. In the Lincoln Elementary School library Makerspace, Library Media Specialist Crystal Waites led first grade students through a project-based learning robotics activity where students programmed small robotic devices to respond to a lightsource moving quickly along a workspace modeled from the famous Talladega Superspeedway.

Networks of Collaboration

Talladega County Schools has partnered across various Digital Promise initiatives, all of which were clearly visible in the hallways of the Munford and Lincoln schools that we visited.

As remarked by Dr. Suzanne Lacey, superintendent of Talladega County Schools, Talladega embarked on a journey of innovation over 15 years ago. Highlighting the importance of preparing students for an increasingly technologically-evolving job market, the district articulated their vision for their schools and prepared their teachers, students, and classrooms for this change. When Talladega joined the League of Innovative Schools in 2015, they became part of a national network of educators supporting the use of learning technologies to advance equity and excellence for every student. Through participation in the Dynamic Learning Project, Talladega’s “Experts Down the Hall” coaching model cultivated technology experts across schools that could support teacher professional learning in real-time.

In 2018, Talladega County Schools began working with Digital Promise on the Computational Thinking for Next Generation Science program and have since then been developing a culture of computational thinking across the district. In 2018, the district joined Digital Promise in a research-practice partnership funded by the National Science Foundation, Developing Inclusive K-12 Computing Pathways for the League of Innovative Schools. The project provided an opportunity for researchers and practitioners to focus on access and equity in computing, including the development of the district-facing CT Pathways Toolkit, which allows districts to plan, build, and implement their own inclusive computing pathways. Talladega’s own CT pathway is competency-based, consistent, and cumulative, and seamlessly integrated across disciplines and grade-levels.

Talladega’s vision for innovation is the throughline that connects their district-wide initiatives, from building inclusive CT Pathways to successfully piloting dynamic professional development models, and is evident through students’ engagement in the classroom and teacher and building leaders enthusiasm.

Want to know more about Talladega’s CT Pathway? Find more resources here:

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