Well-intended computer science initiatives are often met with reluctance and resistance before they even get off the ground. Teachers may see the new initiative as “just another thing” on their plate or may feel ill-prepared to tackle an entirely new discipline.
To ensure a smooth transition to teaching computer science, campus and district leaders will need to empower teachers with ownership of the change, versus simply asking them to comply with it.
Here are a few tips to ensure that your teachers are provided with space, support, and resources that will help them confidently assume ownership over the implementation of computer science initiatives.
Finding Time Through an Interdisciplinary Approach
Time. It’s the first thing to roll off the tongues of educators when asked what they need to be successful. It may even sound cliche to mention it, but in the specific case of computer science integration, time is more than a conceptual constraint on teachers. When it comes to computer science integration, time presents an actual structural constraint that must be overcome.
The structure of the school day is already set. We start our day at 8:00 in the morning, and we leave at 3:30 in the afternoon. In between, an hour is spent on math, on reading, on science, and on all the other things that are important and necessary to attend to students’ learning and other needs.
When there are only so many hours in the day, it becomes nearly impossible to find time for computer science—despite its potential to inspire, motivate, and meaningfully engage students in really cool things.
Most schools already have some kind of specials rotation in which students spend some time each week on art or music or some other subject. Computer science could become another spoke in that rotation fairly easily, and many schools are already doing this.
The problem with this solution is that it doesn’t provide much time for computer science, and it also takes away time from the other areas studied during rotations.
A better option might be to adopt an interdisciplinary approach to computer science. It can be folded into other classes and used almost like a lever to help students explore different problems. Data science, for example, is an excellent tool students can use to explore climate change. Students could also build a program that demonstrates their understanding of story elements such as characters, setting, and plot.
Supporting Teachers Who Step Up
Finding blocks of time for students to learn computer science isn’t the only scheduling challenge. Teachers’ schedules are important too. When a teacher steps up to teach a whole new subject, they shouldn’t be burdened with even more work. They are already taking on a new class.
Schools can’t make new time for them, but maybe they can have an extra prep period or be excused from lunch duty or maybe they get extra pay for their extra work. There are a number of ways to help ease this burden or compensate teachers for it.
Similarly, administrators can look for additional opportunities to reduce the burden on computer science teachers by ensuring their students have up-to-date devices, the internet access on campus is strong and reliable, and that there is IT staff available to keep everything running smoothly. If there’s a turnkey computer science solution that works for your district and doesn’t need to be cobbled together or contextualized by teachers, choosing that solution can save a great amount of time.
There’s a lot that needs to be in place, and your newly minted computer science teacher can’t carry the torch alone.
Choosing Curriculum That Educates Students AND Teachers
A curriculum that is educational for both students and teachers can take some of the work—and stress!—out of adding computer science. You want an easy-to-follow curriculum that has step-by-step directions, suggestions for places to dig in a little deeper, or notes to help generate constructive conversations with students about the broader social implications of a topic.
If those kinds of things are clear in the curriculum, it removes ambiguity, which will give teachers a boost of confidence. Your teachers are going to learn right along with their students about the computer science concepts they cover and will eventually become seasoned pros, but making it as simple as possible for them off the bat will go a long way toward ensuring early success. Give them curricula and resources that don’t demand expertise from them at the beginning—or potentially even at all.
Connecting Computer Science to Teachers’ Moral Purpose
More than folks in most other professions, teachers tend to have a moral purpose behind their work. Some of them may say it’s to create a brighter future, to have a positive impact in a child’s life, or any number of similar things. In the end, most teachers became teachers to make the world a better place. Make sure they are able to connect computer science back to that purpose.
For example, many school districts have developed a “portrait of a graduate” to depict the skills and dispositions they hope to impart in their students before they graduate from high school. Very often, these depictions include skills and dispositions that can be taught and reinforced directly through computer science instruction.
When teachers can see that the work they are doing, even if clunky and challenging in the beginning, is connecting directly to their heart-felt mission, they are much more likely to sustain the initiative.
Looking to Other Organizations for Inspiration and Collaboration
There are some amazing thought partners out there with resources for teachers and students working on computer science. Code.org has been putting great computer science resources out into the world for free for years now. Similarly, a quick search of the web for free computer science lessons will provide you with countless offerings.
Computer Science Teachers of America (CSTA) has local chapters teachers can join, along with a ton of resources, including free or low-cost professional development opportunities. Next year’s CSTA conference will also be held virtually, expanding access to those who may not typically have the budget or opportunity to travel to an in-person event.
Social networks like Twitter can also be great places to find experienced computer science teachers or others who are new to the journey and discovering what works for them and their students.
Simply getting a group of teachers together who are all focused on the same area can create a powerful professional learning network, so whether it’s online with strangers or in-person with your own district colleagues, banding together can be an excellent first step.
I was reminded of something simple and true about the will of educators when the pandemic forced them to shift from traditional in-person instruction to virtual teaching basically overnight. Time over time, need over need, they will rise to the challenge.
So, yes, there are a number of factors that make the integration of computer science seem overwhelming and almost impossible. But give your teachers the time, the support, the purpose, and the resources they need. Then, watch them rise.
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