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Pairing a hands-on approach with computer science curriculum via scalable products and flexible PD helped us rethink classroom learning.

How to integrate a computer science curriculum into K-5 classrooms


Pairing a hands-on approach with scalable products and flexible professional development helped us rethink classroom learning

Key points:

  • Although a majority of teachers believe computer science education is critical, the subject isn’t required–or even offered–nationwide
  • Introducing computer science at an early age equips students with the skills and confidence to be curious in STEAM learning
  • See related article: 4 resources to differentiate computer science instruction

I love it so much I would do it every day if we could!” These words are music to any teacher’s ears and I’m lucky enough to hear this sentiment from my students often. Since introducing a new computer science curriculum in 2019, my students at Redlands Unified School District have consistently shown engagement, genuine enthusiasm, and joy in learning.

Defining the importance of early computer science learning

Did you know that by 2030 more than half of the world’s children and young people won’t have the skills or qualifications to participate in the emerging global workforce? Educators like me often don’t have access to the right solutions or resources to prepare students for the future. For example, only 30 percent of K-8 schools offer computer science education even though 71 percent of U.S. teachers believe computer science is “just as important as required courses like math, science, history, and English,” according to the 2021 State of Computer Science Education report.

Computer science is so much more than just coding. It builds foundational and transferable skills, such as logistical deduction, critical and computational thinking, reasoning, and problem-solving. Most importantly, computer science is not just for older or future students to learn; it’s critical for all students to learn right now as technology continues to advance at a rapid pace. 

When we set out to transform how we taught computer science, we decided to start with our youngest learners. By starting with kindergarteners, we hoped to build basic building blocks and confidence that would carry them through their learning journey. What I love about bringing computer science to young learners is that we can equip students with the skills and confidence from an early age to be curious in their STEAM learning and pursue more in-depth computer science learning along the way.

A scalable approach

With 70 percent of our students coming from socioeconomically disadvantaged backgrounds, we knew that to have real impact in our district, we needed to ensure all students had access to robotics, coding, and programming learning opportunities. That’s when we discovered LEGO Education and the LEGO®Learning System, which is comprehensive across grade levels, offers standards-aligned curriculum and is familiar and approachable for students and teachers regardless of their previous experience with computer science.

Redlands has more than 20,000 students but no formal computer science curriculum in place for K-5 students. As a STEAM learning solution that progresses as students move up in grade levels, the LEGO Learning System would enable our students to build their skills over time while creating an easy entry-point for students and teachers due to the familiarity of LEGO bricks. For students, the playful, hands-on nature of the system keeps them engaged and curious. For teachers, the standards-aligned lessons help to meet district-wide mandates that allow us to utilize the kits in all our classrooms!

Our teachers wondered how to bring this to life in a realistic way. The LEGO Learning System professional development materials helped them visualize how to seamlessly integrate this solution into classrooms while building confidence in their own abilities to teach STEAM and computer science.

The impact of LEGO Education solutions

As an educator for more than 10 years, I’ve seen firsthand how beneficial this approach can be to closing the achievements gaps and providing more equitable access to computer science curriculum in our district. One of our teachers shared with me that “we have seen students who may not necessarily thrive in a traditional classroom setting thriving with these hands-on experiences.”  

Since integrating these solutions into our computer science curriculum, more than 100 teachers are now using them in their classrooms and 3,000+ students in grades K-5 are learning computer science and engineering design concepts. And with scalable kits that are built with high-quality materials, we can continue offering this engaging and hands-on experience to our students for years to come.

Based on our experience incorporating computer science into our classrooms, here are three tips for other educators to achieve similar success.

3 tips to integrate computer science into your school

1. Hands-on learning is key to engaging students in computer science. Ninety-nine percent of educators agree that hands-on learning increases students’ confidence. Incorporate activities that include familiar elements, like LEGO bricks, which can level the playing field and provide a playful, interactive way for students to engage with STEAM concepts. Hands-on, playful learning has also been found to increase problem-solving and critical thinking skills that are necessary for subjects like computer science.

2. Professional development is an integral component of teacher success in the classroom. Research shows that elementary teachers lack confidence in teaching STEM. It’s important to provide educators with the resources, tools, and training needed to build their own confidence in STEAM education. When educators are set up for success, they can experience the same joy and excitement about learning as their students.

3. Introduce early learners to computer science to set them up for lifelong learning. By incorporating computer science into curriculums early on, students can develop the 21st century skills needed to be confident in their learning as they progress through grade levels. These skills will equip students with the critical thinking necessary for future industries and growing technologies such as AI. By thinking of computer science as something young learners can begin to engage in now, rather than waiting for high school coding classes, we can better prepare students for a rapidly evolving world.

What can you do?

These are just some of the ways we’ve been able to successfully bring computer science into our curriculum at Redlands. Through continued investment in our teachers and districtwide adoption of the LEGO Learning System, we can’t wait to see how computer science continues to elevate our students’ learning experience and empower our teachers to prepare students for the future.

What are some ways you have introduced computer science to your classroom(s)?

Related:
3 ways teachers can navigate the evolving field of computer science
North Dakota to require computer science for all K-12 students

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