Even with a strict budget, limited teacher expertise in computer science, and the chaos of a pandemic, the Metropolitan School District of Pike Township (MSDPT) launched a comprehensive and engaging K-5 computer science curriculum for every student.
As an instructional specialist at MSDPT during the launch, I now understand how much collaboration, clever resource management, and hard work are required to run a successful K-5 computer science program.
As computer science has been launched into the national spotlight, schools across the country are finding ways to integrate STEM themes into early education. Although we faced challenges at MSDPT, we were able to find solutions that fit our budget and empowered our existing faculty to teach this specialized subject with confidence.
Here are the steps we took to launch our program and the lessons we learned along the way.
1. Start small.
Launching a districtwide K-5 computer science curriculum was not a one-step process. Instead, we started small. First, MSDPT introduced a computer science course during a short summer enrichment program. Each class only had about 30 available spots, but these spots filled up each year in a matter of days. Once we saw how popular computer science was with our students and found out that Indiana had a computer science state mandate coming soon, we started to plan how to launch a more comprehensive K-5 computer science program.
I encourage you to start small by sprinkling more computer science concepts into your existing curriculum. Look online for free computer science resources. We found plenty of free courses and information that introduced digital citizenship, online safety, and coding concepts to our students.
2. Seek funding for a more robust CS program.
Although free resources were the best place to start, it took funding and persistence to get MSDPT’s K-5 computer science program to where it is today. To fund our expansion, MSDPT applied for and won a STEM acceleration grant from the Indiana Department of Education.
I encourage schools to get creative with funding opportunities. For example, try reaching out to local businesses to see if they’re willing to support any of your school programs, or contact online learning resources about accommodations for your school’s budget and needs. Look for funding opportunities with title funds, curriculum dollars, or private companies. In board meetings, express the importance of computer science skills for career readiness and advocate for STEM funding.
3. Find a curriculum that empowers teachers and students.
Choosing the right computer science curriculum was critical to our program’s success. We went into this search knowing that we wanted it to address many computer science topics and be easy to teach, even with limited technical resources and expertise.
As we looked to fill gaps we had in   our existing computer science content, we found Codelicious.   We tasked our librarians to create the original scope and sequence for computer science that was used during the school year, which allowed us to partner with Codelicious to fill the gaps we had in staffing during both the school year and our summer enrichment programs. We have since expanded our use of the curriculum with the newly developed scope and sequence when we moved to a full-year K-5 program, because it grew with us and fit our needs.  
A computer science curriculum should be easy to follow and should of course align with state standards. We tasked our librarians to create the scope and sequence we used during the school year. Flexibility and support are also important to consider, because technical issues are bound to arise. For example, Codelicious offered technical support and offline learning materials when we faced software problems with our school computers.
4. Support the educators during program roll-out.
With funding and a comprehensive curriculum in hand, it was time to extend our computer science program. MSDPT started by rolling out the program to 4th and 5th graders in 2021. In 2022, the program now extends to all students from K-5.
At MSDPT, our computer science classes are led by teaching assistants. These educators have varying levels of expertise in computer science, but with our curriculum and continued support from our tech support and librarians, our teaching assistants are empowered to teach computer science to all our students.
Because the digital curriculum we use provides step-by-step teacher instructions, educators do not have to be experts in computer science to teach it. Our teaching assistants also save time on prep before class because the curriculum is comprehensive and already aligns with state education standards.
By providing the right tools and support to educators, our computer science program has been able to thrive, without breaking the budget or overwhelming our faculty.
5. Expand the program with more lesson types and opportunities.
At MSDPT, we wanted our computer science program to go beyond teaching students to code. We wanted our K-5 students to not only learn computer science skills but also become better digital citizens, understand online safety, and learn soft skills along the way. To fulfill these goals, we chose a curriculum that goes beyond lessons to offer self-monitoring of screen time and highlighting STEM careers that our students can aspire to.
Using Codelicious courses and teacher collaboration, we are also integrating more district learning themes into our curriculum. For example, we had a “Women in Tech” panel discussion that featured real-world female tech executives. Events like this help our students see themselves in computer science roles.
With these extended learning opportunities and a consistent curriculum, students see paths to college and careers at a young age. Now, students are going through the complicated process of debugging their code. They’re telling their friends that they want to be video game designers when they grow up.
Before MSDPT began offering a computer science curriculum, we weren’t sure we had the specialized expertise, budget, or technical tools to make it happen. Through planning, collaboration, and choosing a teacher-friendly curriculum, we are now proud to offer our students an engaging, six-year course of study that promotes college and career readiness in this important STEM field. By following or learning from our roadmap that I outlined above, schools across the nation can integrate computer science themes into their classrooms—all while using existing teacher resources.