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4 ways forward-thinking districts are inspiring more students to code

By Melissa Gedney
March 3rd, 2016

students-coding

How innovative districts are exposing more students to coding and closing the participation gap

Recently, President Barack Obama announced his administration’s commitment to provide computer science education for all students. Endorsement by the White House is valuable to those new to introducing computer science (CS) in the classroom, as well as others, like members of the Digital Promise League of Innovative Schools, who have championed CS for years.

Members of the League, a coalition of 73 of the most forward-thinking U.S. public school districts, have long prioritized computational thinking and CS education for their students. Thirty League districts, representing over one million students, made commitments to the White House to further the President’s proposal.

Districts in the League have committed to developing thoughtful, long-term solutions to overcome the obstacles that many populations of students face  one of the world’s most important languages. Today’s League leaders are exposing students to computational thinking at a young age, giving current educators the opportunity to get certified, making CS a graduation requirement, and providing out-of-school learning opportunities, all of which are helping to close the participation gap in CS education.

Expose students to computer science at a young age

  • San Francisco Unified School District aims to incorporate CS into the core curriculum for all students in grades pre-K-8, in order to increase access for underrepresented student populations, specifically African-American and Latino students and girls. The district’s hypothesis is exposing all students to high-quality, culturally-relevant CS instruction in the lower grades will lead to more students from all backgrounds choosing to pursue related coursework in high school and beyond.
  • Cajon Valley Union School District’s relationship with Code.org introduces all students to CS, and the district works with Code to the Future to provide a comprehensive program for its CS magnet schools. This year, the district launched the first grades K-5 Computer Science Magnet in America (a K-3 Magnet where CS is taught in Spanish).
  • Highline Public Schools is committed to pioneering a pre-K-12 coding pathway that provides access to coding for all students. Nine thousand Highline students participated in the December 2015 “Hour of Code.” Administrators build in regularly scheduled coding for students in select elementary schools, with students utilizing Code.org curriculum to enhance and deepen their critical thinking skills.
  • Franklin West Supervisory Union, a rural district in Vermont, is adding the district’s first full-time computer science teacher next year to work with a K-4 Science STEM teacher and our K-8 technology integrationist to provide opportunities to learn coding for its elementary school students.

Give current educators the opportunity to get certified

  • In conjunction with Catawba College, and with the support of a local philanthropist, Rowan-Salisbury Schools developed a master’s degree program that focuses in STEM education to a cohort of teachers within the district.  The degree, free of charge, prepares teachers to integrate STEM strategies into classroom instruction with a focus on CS integration.
  • Lincoln Public Schools provided professional development through Code.org to all elementary CS teachers, and brought the CS Fundamentals courses to thirty-eight elementary schools, impacting nearly 18,000 students.
  • Orange County Public Schools is providing strategic professional development opportunities for teachers to at the elementary, middle, and high school levels to become facilitators of computer science curriculum through Code.org. These facilitators will teach other educators at their schools to infuse computer science lessons into existing units of study.

Make computer science a graduation requirement

  • Vista Unified School District intends to make CS a core graduation requirement by either satisfying the existing math or science requirement or a new CS requirement, by the year 2018. The district commits to closing the participation gap in CS for English learners, foster students, homeless students, low-income and disadvantaged students.
  • Currently, Piedmont City School District offers CS as a mathematics core class.  Approximately 30 percent of seniors currently graduate with a credit in CS. The district will make CS a graduation requirement beginning with next year’s ninth grade students.

Computer science education can take place outside of class time

  • Mineola Union Free School District empowers students to work independently and pace themselves to master coding languages through its partnership with online learning platform KidOYO. Teachers and KidOYO work collaboratively to make meaningful projects that end in a coding project for students; there are mandatory coding curriculum projects in four grade levels.
  • In Henry County Public Schools, librarians integrate CS during mandatory media time. Students work with iPads to learn coding through Minecraft, use Raspberry Pis to collaboratively create and program, use Little Bits to design and program working windmills, and work in maker spaces to dismantle and reassemble computers and gaming systems to learn how the devices work.
  • Sitka School District is working on “Full Steam Ahead!”, a mobile makerspace project that aims to inspire creativity and build problem-solving skills for its students. Focused on the integration of Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, and Math (STEAM), the mobile learning space brings life to learning outside of traditional classroom walls. The focus of the activities will involve building computer science skills and project-based learning.
  • Vancouver Public Schools offers the Girls Lead The Way Summer Robotics Camp where middle school aged girls learn to program mini robots. The primary goal of camp is to increase the self-confidence of middle school girls in STEM.

There is no one right way to close the participation gap for students in computer science. There are, however, endless ways to try.

About the Author:

Melissa Gedney is the community manager for the Digital Promise League of Innovative Schools.