Why leveraging computer science is crucial to every classroom

In the ever-changing technological world, computer science is not only becoming more prominent in classrooms, but a staple in education. Computer science combines the principles of technology and use of computers to educate learners on both the hardware and software of computer technology. The field of computer science is exceptionally diverse, as the skill sets are in-demand across practically every industry—serving as a lucrative and stable career pathway.

In addition, computer science has many facets, meaning educators can leverage various components of the field to reach students across all levels and learning abilities. With technology present in almost every classroom, educators have a greater opportunity to implement computer science lessons throughout the curriculum. This provides students with the knowledge and skills required to help follow job market trends when they graduate.

1. Personalized learning
Technology in the classroom has revolutionized the way students learn, allowing students of all learning styles to connect and provide the chance to move at their own pace for a more individualized approach to learning. It also increases the quality and quantity of students’ thinking and writing. With more access to resources than ever before, students now have the world at their fingertips and can apply this advantage to enhance their educational experience.

Often times, educators are intimidated by computer science, thinking it is a more complex subject for younger learners; however, similar to all core subjects, students at pre-K and elementary levels can easily master computer science by learning incrementally. By helping students develop skills of inquiry, ideating, creating, modeling, testing, and analyzing in the early years, it becomes easier to integrate computer science into the classroom in later years.


Early coding can greatly benefit students–here’s how one school does it

Coding and computer programming are slowly becoming part of the core curriculum in schools and districts across the U.S.–and some educators say the earlier students start coding, the better.

Research says students are more likely to maintain their interest in coding if they’re exposed to it at an early age, and now, some schools are starting in elementary school.

At The Village School in Houston, TX, instructional technology specialist Ruth O’Brien and middle school teacher Marc Abrate are helping students develop skills that help not only in coding, but in areas such as problem solving, critical thinking, and collaboration.

Coding has been a required part of the middle school and elementary school curriculum since 2014.

Teachers attend coding workshops and receive training at school. Students in fourth grade are trained to use devices to code, and they also have to train their peers and students in other grades.

“The younger kids love to learn from the older kids. Providing the proper devices and training for young children gets them excited and inspired,” O’Brien and Abrate say.


Benefits & advice for transitioning edtech to the cloud

At the beginning of the edtech wave, superintendents saw many benefits from using digital resources in the classroom. But, they also saw a large number of resources being recommitted to just this one aspect of education: space for server farms, money for hardware and software upgrades, overworked personnel, etc. District IT offices were taking on the same tasks as Fortune 500 companies without the ability to implement them as effectively.

For administrators looking to take the focus of edtech away from upkeep and back to learning, moving to the cloud could be the answer. Presenters of the edWebinar, “Cloud Computing: Taking Advantage of the Latest Technologies,” which is part of the Empowered Superintendents edWebinar series, shared their reasons for switching to the cloud, how it has helped their schools, and their advice when making the transition.

While the presenters named several reasons they chose to move to the cloud, their top reason was equitable access to edtech. First, all programs are accessible to all students and teachers. Before, for instance, it was possible that each third grade classroom would have a science app of varying quality. With the cloud, teachers select the most effective program, and it’s available to all. In addition, students don’t need specific devices or operating systems to use the digital resources. If they can get to the web, they can do homework, see teacher comments, and do anything else they might in the classroom. Other reasons for migrating to the cloud include potential cost-savings, the simplicity of having all resources in one place, and increased reliability and decreased outages.

Once they moved their educational resources to the cloud, the presenters found several key benefits:

  • Staff efficiencies: Initially, IT staff worried about their jobs. In actuality, moving software maintenance offsite meant they could focus more on working with students and teachers to get the most out of the digital resources. Teachers also spent less time troubleshooting tech issues.
  • Cost-effectiveness: All of the presenters saw projected cost savings become reality, especially since there are no more one-use, one-classroom programs. Now, when the school adds a program, it benefits multiple constituencies.
  • Elasticity: User licenses, storage, and services can be added and subtracted as needed.
  • Analytics: Now, administrators know how many teachers and students are using a program, how often, and how effectively. The detailed data helps administrators make informed purchasing decisions.

6 realities about district broadband connectivity

School wi-fi and broadband connectivity are showing improvement, due largely to an increased investment from the federal E-rate program’s modernization, according to a new report from CoSN.

The results indicate strong improvements, but they also highlight areas where districts continue to struggle. They also underscore why school systems need strong networks and robust, affordable broadband access to fully leverage 21st century educational opportunities.

“One trend is clear: Learning is going digital. Improved wireless access and broadband connectivity means more schools are better able to meet the modern technology needs of students and teachers,” says Keith Krueger, CEO of CoSN. “These strides demonstrate the impact of the E-Rate modernization, as well as state investments in rural broadband. Policymakers and local leaders should continue to make these infrastructure investments over the long run to support schools in every community.”

Here are a few key findings from the 2018 Annual Infrastructure Report, which surveyed districts of varying sizes:

1. The survey reveals that 69 percent of school system leaders are “very confident” in their wireless network’s ability to support one device per student.


Middle school movies that support SEL in the classroom

No matter how we discover them, the best films move us in ways we’ve never imagined. No matter how old we are, they can make us both laugh and cry, and they help us learn more about ourselves and how we relate to others. Of course, many popular movies deal with social and emotional issues, and these can be great for teaching SEL in our classrooms.

The films on this list are excellent for encouraging students to reflect on and discuss a wide range of social and emotional issues. As teachers, we’re in a unique position to give these films the context they demand. Social and emotional learning doesn’t usually come from watching a movie by yourself—it comes from the rich discussions that form when you’re watching a movie with others and relating what happens in the film to real life. Because of this, it’s crucial that we don’t merely show these films without also giving kids time to reflect on and discuss what they’re watching. As students watch, help them interpret the films you show, and give them direct invitations to ask questions and think critically about what they’re seeing on the screen.

Note that our list includes some films that address complex and mature themes. One of the benefits of kids seeing these films in school, versus on their own, is that teachers can help guide and facilitate conversations about these issues. However—as with any movie you select for your classroom—determine ahead of time what’s OK for your students and the community where you teach, and always follow your school or district’s policies around showing films in the classroom.

Here are 10 movies for the middle school classroom that support students’ social and emotional learning:

1. Inside Out
Self-Control, Teamwork, Empathy, Integrity
A modern animated classic about emotions, Inside Out will help kids understand the power of our feelings and why it’s important to express them—whether it’s happiness, fear, or regret.

2. Science Fair
Communication, Curiosity, Perseverance, Teamwork
Following different student groups competing in an international science fair, this documentary highlights the perseverance and teamwork required to make it to the top. Help students analyze the variety of personality types they’ll see in the film—from shy to self-possessed and beyond—and how they help or hurt the contestants’ goals.

3. Far from the Tree
Communication, Compassion, Empathy
This moving documentary is about parents learning how to raise kids who are unlike themselves—whether they have a disability, identify as LGBTQ, or have committed a crime. Students will see how these parents grapple with empathy and develop tolerance and then consider how their own families handle their unique characteristics.


8 ways to reduce device damage in 1:1 programs

As a technology user, I have over the years:

  • Dropped and broken my phone’s screen
  • Spilled liquid on my laptop’s keyboard, frying the motherboard
  • Pulled the cord out a device, breaking off the connection
  • Pushed a monitor off my desk onto the floor
  • Left my computer bag on top of my car’s roof, and driven off

These acts were, believe me, unintentional. The costs of these mistakes wound up coming out of my own pocket.

So I have a degree of sympathy when our students bring their Chromebooks in for repair. Stuff happens to even the most careful technology user.

Unfortunately, we see some students whose devices need repair so often it casts doubt on just how careful they actually are with their devices. This seems especially true of our middle schoolers, who now take their Chromebooks home on foot, on buses, and on bikes and into households with siblings, pets, and who knows what else?

These are, of course, the same middle schoolers whose prefrontal cortexes are still works in progress. Our teachers and techs are often frustrated by the chronic Chromebook destroyers—and it becomes increasingly difficult to give these students the benefit of the doubt when they claim accidental damage.

Were there a magic fix to this problem, I am sure every district with a 1:1 program would be using it. To a limited degree, we find these things may be helping reduce damage in our schools…

  1. Making training on proper care of the student device mandatory for all kids, every year.
  2. Providing cases for devices.
  3. Establishing some degree of financial responsibility to students and parents for non-accidental damage.
  4. Requiring/allowing students to leave their devices at school rather than take them home (not popular with teachers whose homework requires technology use).
  5. Giving older, less-valuable-but-still-functioning Chromebooks to those who show chronic difficulties in responsible use.
  6. Counseling with students, parents, and school staff when problems are endemic.
  7. Keeping filtering as least restrictive as possible in hope the personal value to the student of the device will be greater if they can use it for activities other than school work. (I want my Chromebook working so I can play a game, check a sports score, and engage in social media with my peers.)
  8. We are discussing another strategy: What if we try to use building culture to increase the care given to technology? Make good technology use a building-wide effort and responsibility? Would a carrot approach help? Let’s say we allocated $10,000 for computer repairs to each building and then any monies not used for repair of student devices could be used for elective technology purchases to be determined by the building.

When I taught junior high back in the dark ages, one of the teacher’s favorite expressions was, “You buy’m books and buy’m books, and all they do is eat the covers.” Were that same teacher working today, would the expression be, “You buy’m devices and buy’m devices, and all they do is break the screens?”

I suspect this is a “wicked” problem schools will struggle with for a long time. I don’t anticipate Apple or Dell or Acer coming out with a 7th-grader-proof computing product anytime soon.

How do you improve the care and feeding of the student devices in your school?

[Editor’s Note: This article was first published on the Blue Skunk Blog.]


How to cut your bus disciplinary referrals by 67 percent

Several years ago, my school adopted a Positive Behavior Support Program (PBSIS) program. Solutions to persistent problems pointed school climate in the right direction, reduced disciplinary referrals, and tackled bullying incidents (suspensions decreased by four times, and bullying incidents by three times).

PBSIS and programs like it are replicable, if school communities and their leaders are patient and sustained in adoption. Resources are available for free. Part of implementing such a program includes a schoolwide identification of problem areas in the school. This should be done through data analysis (run a report of how frequently incidents happen in various locations) and from voting by staff and students. (We use Google Forms to determine school community perceptions.)

Survey says…
When we surveyed our school community and compared this to our own data, four problem areas emerged:

  • Hallways
  • Cafeteria
  • Stairwells
  • Buses

Once identified, we targeted those areas with increased supervision and an incentives-based model, which is proven to work, with the exception of one area: school buses. Why?

Buses were clearly the most difficult to address. School administrators and faculty never have direct oversight of school buses. We struggled trying to encourage better bus behavior, announcing and promoting this as part of our overall PBSIS program. We boarded buses and tried to change our approach when drivers demanded action on those few persistent students, by encouraging positive behavior rather than highlighting negative behavior. Little change resulted.

Start by empowering the drivers
As a school community, we looked at bus behavior as our most stubborn challenge in an otherwise successful behavior program. One summer, I examined research and literature on successful bus behavior programs and parallel programs that could be implemented on our buses. The first and most prominent change that needed to take place was to allow our bus drivers to assign bus seats, rather than having an assistant principal assign student seats. The reason? We wanted drivers to have some skin in the game; historically, they were pawns, being dictated to. This was a risk, but why not try? Nothing else had worked.

Even before we implemented our PBSIS model with bus drivers, we saw an immediate result in giving bus drivers the power to assign seats. In fact, it resulted in an immediate 60 percent reduction in student referrals. Why? Bus drivers now had authority over their buses. This is the same way effective teachers manage their classrooms. Why not give the drivers the same respect and opportunity?

I won’t deny that among our large bus fleet of 36 buses, a few drivers are ineffective managers, just as a few teachers are ineffective managers. What do we do when teachers are ineffective classroom managers? We coach them. Don’t bus drivers deserve the same support? Of greater significance, most drivers seem to manage well on their own. After several years of implementing the PBSIS model, it was time to do what we should have done from the outset: Bring bus drivers into the fold by supporting them with coaching and empowerment.

Next, provide additional support to the drivers
When I called the transportation supervisor to explain that her drivers were an important part of our PBSIS system and that it was time to bring them on board with support, she was silent. Used to hearing nothing but complaints, she either thought I had officially lost my mind—or she was waiting for the other shoe to drop. I asked if we could have a meeting with the bus drivers one morning early in the school year and shared my plan. She wished me good luck, as this was a hardened group of blue-collar workers who were used to being blamed for problems and viewed administrators as “stuffed shirts.” I prepared a presentation to demonstrate to the drivers. Here’s what happened next.


How to instill an entrepreneurial mindset district-wide

As the superintendent of a large urban high school district, I have the opportunity to help identify and implement innovative programs that help prepare our students for success.

In my seven years leading East Side Union (CA) High School District (ESUHSD), I’ve watched our schools empower students to transform their lives and thrive in a global society. We’ve seen impressive growth, and a big element of our success is due to the partnerships we have forged. We’ve collaborated successfully with curriculum partners who are demonstrably aligned with our district goals and sensitive to the challenges teachers face in the classroom. Most importantly, we’ve sought out partners who offer evidence-based, research-backed programs with proven impact.

In 2016, ESUHSD adopted a renewed focus on Career and Technical Education (CTE), centered on the kind of project-based learning that would help our students be better prepared for life after high school. We believe developing students’ entrepreneurial thinking is an important part of preparing them for the future beyond high school, and research suggests youth entrepreneurship education can also help develop important non-cognitive skills such as communication and collaboration, creativity, problem solving, and critical thinking. These essential soft skills can orient young people to success and is a key component that employers in Silicon Valley are looking for. Developing these skills is the best way for our students to be able to access the innovation economy in our own backyard.

But it’s important to find the right curriculum partner. After much consideration, including the cost to the district, the implementation process, and the value to our students, we chose to collaborate with the Network for Teaching Entrepreneurship (NFTE). NFTE is an internationally recognized nonprofit organization that focuses on bringing its unique programs to students in under-resourced communities. Their approach to activating the entrepreneurial mindset is grounded in project-based learning and emphasizes building startup skills.

NFTE has served well over a million young people since its founding in the late 1980s and is currently active in 22 states across the U.S. Their impact is proven: 74 percent of NFTE program alumni enroll in college and 89 percent say the skills they learned through NFTE classes help them in business and in life. The organization is well-equipped to help ESUHSD meet our goals, deliver the results we want for our students, and bring valuable training and professional-development (PD) opportunities to our teachers.


5 ways to use makerspaces to support personalized learning

At this stage of the edtech revolution, most educators are focused on using tech to enhance lessons rather than on the tech itself. But many times, tech is only integrated at specific points in the classroom or with a specific tool as determined by the teacher. At St. Albans City School in Vermont, SETDA’s 2018 Student Voices Award Winner, educators encourage the students to find places in their everyday work to incorporate digital resources, especially from their makerspace. In the edWebinar “Students Leverage Technology Tools and Makerspaces to Personalize Learning,” Grace Borst, innovation specialist at St. Albans City School, and several of her students explained how they’re using technology for assessment, service work, and more.

St. Albans City School has a dedicated makerspace open to all students from preK-8. In addition to class assignments in the space, open lab time is also available on a first-come, first-serve basis. Students use this time for school and personal projects where tech might not be required but could add value. Although they miss class for open lab, the teachers recognize the benefits of letting students explore technology to help them achieve their personal and educational goals.

Here are some examples the student presenters shared about how they’ve used technology at St. Albans.

1. Developing digital portfolios and personalized learning plans: Every student at St. Albans has a personalized learning plan, which they help drive throughout their time at the school. Instead of traditional report cards, students assemble digital portfolios to show their progress. Students upload their homework, projects, and even pictures. They’re also asked to constantly reflect on their work and submit reflections. For the students, the best part of the portfolios is that they can see how their work and their goals change not just within the school year, but throughout their time at St. Albans.

2. Guiding stewardship projects: All students at St. Albans belongs to a learning community, which covers two grade bands and works on a stewardship project for the whole school year. While the projects are service-oriented, such as building a pollinator garden and bee hive, the students use digital resources at multiple points to complete the project. For instance, students didn’t just research information about bees online. They had a bee robot that they learned to program to better understand bee behaviors.


Improving student achievement through choice

Exeter (CA) Unified School District is a small, rural district with approximately 2,800 students, 61 percent of whom are Hispanic and 62 percent of whom are socioeconomically disadvantaged. Approximately one in seven of our students are English language learners. When we looked at our reading and math scores a few years back, we found that we weren’t seeing the growth we were hoping to see. With a renewed focus on the basics of literacy and math, a technology infusion, and a dedication to dialogue over rote memorization, here’s how we helped our students find the success and achievement they deserve.

Starting with the standards
Exeter is a standards-driven district, so when we decided to focus on literacy, we knew we weren’t going to adopt a publisher’s curriculum. Instead, we designed our own units of study and pulled in supplemental materials to align to our state’s standards. We brought in close-reading strategies, started an academic coaching program for teachers, and launched reading interventions and guided reading groups.

1:1 devices, renovated classrooms
We hired an outside consultant to help staff, administration, and some parents develop a technology-implementation plan for our initiative, which started with ramping up the infrastructure with fiber for improved bandwidth and wi-fi. Then we asked teachers to pilot various devices.

We had a three-year technology-implementation plan but, because of our staff’s enthusiasm, that plan shortened to just over two years. In that time, we became a 1:1 device district. Today we have a range of devices in our classrooms, from tablets in some of the primary grades to laptops in our science classrooms (where more powerful devices are necessary).

We’ve also renovated more than half of our classrooms with new personalized and flexible seating and completely transformed 12 classrooms in our middle school. The traditional desks and tables in rows are gone and we have new furniture, such as stand-up, adjustable-height desks, exercise balls for students to sit on, floor-to-ceiling whiteboards, and bean bags. The refurbished classrooms free our students to get comfortable and to transition from individual work environments to group settings quickly to better facilitate collaborative learning.

We have audio systems in the ceiling so students don’t depend on the sound from a TV that might be 25 feet away from them. Those TVs—three in each room—are all wired together so that teachers and students can show one example on all three or operate each one individually for small-group work.