As more states adopt computer science standards, we’re also seeing innovative curriculum development for CS integrated units, like Code.org’s CS Connections and Coding as Another Language (or CAL) from the DevTech Group at Tufts University. Teachers already have a wide range of demands on their time, so an integrated approach allows teachers to meet core content standards for ELA, math and science, while exposing students to new methods for problem-solving and self-expression through computer science education.
A progression of platforms should be part of a district’s computer science planning.
When I work with districts on their computer science instruction, I emphasize the importance of a TK-5 progression to help students transition through different platforms and devices. I also encourage districts to take advantage of free programming tools, like Scratch Jr. and Scratch, which have a wealth of available lessons and support.
However, computer science instruction for TK-2 students is often neglected, with schools thinking that these students are too young for programming. But the same people who created Scratch Jr. have developed a screen-free programmable robot named KIBO specifically for this age group. KIBO’s wooden programming blocks mirror the digital code blocks used in Scratch Jr., and the robots create a smooth transition as students move from wooden blocks to tablets.
Coding will be used to gauge academic learning and SEL.
I’ve used computer science instruction in a variety of ways in TK-5 classrooms. For example, in kindergarten classrooms, teachers have used KIBO robots in math class to have students demonstrate their understanding of number cardinality by programming the robot to move a specific distance across the carpet. I’ve also helped teachers design lessons to have 2nd-graders program sprites in Scratch Jr. to retell a story from a different character’s point of view. In 5th grade, I worked with students to design web pages in Scratch as an alternative to making slideshows for Native American history projects. In these lessons, students tackled content requirements while investigating CS principles such as sequencing, events, and loops.
In our stressful times, computer programming platforms will be a safe space for students to share how they are feeling in the classroom. It can be challenging for some students to talk about how they feel, especially following traumatic events. For example, a lesson from New York City Public Schools asked students to program an emoji in Scratch to let the teacher know their mood as they returned to school at the beginning of the year. The same thing can be done with any programming platform, including KIBO robots, as students return to classrooms in the new year and beyond. The robot can be decorated and programmed to express a mood, or it can become the class “pet,” adopted, cared for and programmed to share how it’s feeling by a different student each week.
The end goal for computer science education will be access for all students.
As a STEM educator, it has been troubling to see statistics showing that enrollment in AP computer science courses does not often reflect the demographics of school districts. How can we prepare students in lower grades to see computer science courses as an option when they arrive in high school?
No matter what programming platform they use, if we give younger students opportunities to use computer science in a variety of ways, by the time they’re in middle school, they’ll see robotics and computer programming as just another tool they use to tell stories and solve problems that are personally meaningful to them. Many students now have access to computers and the internet for the first time. We have an opportunity and obligation to provide them with the computer science instruction they deserve, and the myriad learning opportunities it offers.
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