Interest in K-12 coding and computer programming has increased tenfold in recent years, due in part to the nation’s need for highly-qualified computer programming graduates to fill jobs that sit empty.

But there’s a disconnect between students’ interest, advocacy for coding education, and what schools actually offer. Ninety percent of parents want their child to study computer science, but only 40 percent of schools teach computer programming, according to Code.org.

After participating in the Hour of Code during Computer Science Education Week, one district’s technology team wanted to sustain students’ interest in computer science and wanted to offer something different for students who were recommended for enrichment.

“The Gifted and Talented Department felt technology skills weren’t addressed full-time with our students, so during the summer we had the opportunity to grow beyond the Hour of Code,” said Arabella Castillo, a technology trainer and specialist with Laredo Independent School District (LISD) in Texas, during a TCEA presentation.

The district’s Instructional Technology and Gifted and Talented departments collaborated to launch LISD’s first summer coding program. Teachers who facilitated the summer program received professional development (PD) to learn how to implement lessons. Code.org helped get the program rolling, but Castillo recommends asking for help from anyone in the school or district who has a solid understanding of coding and programming. The three-week program taught 300 students in grades 3-5.

(Next page: 8 lessons learned from the summer coding program)

The program, though short in duration, was a huge success, and students continued their coding when the next school year began.

After the summer program, the district team trained librarians using Code.org resources, programming stations, and hands-on learning. Schools offered technology clubs, and more and more students asked to join the clubs. Some schools also offered family coding nights and provided devices for families in need.

How to start your own coding program

If your district wants to start a summer or extra-curriculuar coding program, here are a few considerations to keep in mind:

1. Help students leave their comfort zone.

“Some students had to be coaxed and we took them out of their comfort zone, but as the days progressed, they liked being out of their comfort zone,” said Fidel.

2. Make it easy for teachers.

Code.org provided the curriculum, so teachers only had to establish beginning and ending points for each day. Students worked at the same pace for about a week, then worked at their own pace.

“Preview the content, practice the lessons and differentiate the learning, and give teachers extra time,” Castillo said.

3. Don’t keep students on devices all day.

During the summer session, students used iPads and desktop computers, but they weren’t on devices all day, noted Fidel Hernandez, a technology trainer with LISD.

“We took breaks so the kids weren’t online the entire day, and it was important for us to tie the coding in with unplugged activities,” he said.

Educators can find unplugged activities here.

4. Take teachers’ feedback into consideration.

Teachers completed surveys after their training and after the entire summer program.

“If we do the coding program again next summer, we’ll use the feedback to make the program more effective for everyone,” said Elenisa Vasquez, a district technology trainer.

5. Document processes and progress with hashtags.

“Hashtag everything, because it tracks your activity and archives what you’ve done,” Castillo said. “It also helps with branding.”

6. Ensure support is in place.

“Have someone in that role, identify contacts and different roles for support, and think ahead,” Castillo said.

7. Differentiate for students.

“Identify how to group grade levels. It’s tricky having third, fourth, and fifth graders together and having a gap in age groups,” Castillo said. “Provide options for the more advanced students.”

8. Identify and evaluate communications channels.

“We had too many communication channels or places where we stored information,” Castillo said. Each team member worked with 10 campuses. The instructional and gifted and talented teams used OneNote for content, scope, and sequence; Yammer for sharing ideas and troubleshooting; Twitter for promotions and branding; and texted in groups for time-sensitive items.

“We spent lots of time searching for ideas or responses in the different channels. Focus on one and organize people by teams.”

About the Author:

Laura Ascione

Laura Ascione is the Managing Editor, Content Services at eSchool Media. She is a graduate of the University of Maryland's prestigious Philip Merrill College of Journalism. When she isn't wrangling her two children, Laura enjoys running, photography, home improvement, and rooting for the Terps. Find Laura on Twitter: @eSN_Laura http://twitter.com/eSN_Laura