With a rapidly advancing world and integrating more technology into life, it has increasingly become evident to parents, teachers, and students alike that technological literacy is essential to primary education. Parents are pushing for increased computer science instruction in elementary schools as they realize how vital this knowledge will be in preparing their children for success beyond grade school. According to code.org (Computer Science Education Stats, n.d.), 90% of parents want their children to study computer science, but only 53% of high schools offer it in their curriculum. Research has also shown that students who take computer science courses in high school are 17% more likely to pursue higher education, with even higher percentages observed among traditionally marginalized populations such as females and Black and Latino students (Brown & Brown, n.d.).
While computer science courses provide fundamental skills like coding and web design, their significance extends far beyond that. Understanding technology equips students with data analysis capabilities and problem-solving skills applicable across various fields, extending beyond digital work environments. Consequently, many believe it is crucial to prioritize teaching computer science concepts. This post outlines my efforts to understand the computer science curriculum’s current needs and promote computer science education among elementary school teachers in British Columbia.
Assessing Current Needs
According to Dr. Shannon Thissen, Regional Administrator for Educational Technology and Computer Science Teaching and Learning in Capital Region ESD 113 in Washington, integrating computer science concepts into the curriculum poses significant challenges. Dr. Thissen mentions that many untrained teachers express concerns and seek guidance. The primary obstacle is teachers’ fear of the unknown, and overcoming this fear is crucial. Several programs, including those offered by code.org, provide free resources for teachers. However, the participation of schools in these programs in British Columbia remains limited. Dr. Thissen also highlights that teachers may hesitate to incorporate such programs into their curriculum if they are not mandated.
In a previous post, I discussed the inconsistency of computer science programs in grade schools across British Columbia, particularly emphasizing the needs of interior and rural areas. While I faced difficulties connecting with schools that desired my services, I recently connected with a Programming 11/12 teacher in Kamloops. I had the opportunity to speak to her class, providing valuable insights into the needs of both teachers and students. Students showed great interest in game development and 3D animation. Despite being a beginner-level class, students had diverse backgrounds in the subject, with some having significant experience with Unity while others struggled with the early stages of block programming. However, their shared enthusiasm for the subject validated studies showing that a majority of students enjoy computer science (Computer Science Education Stats, n.d.). This highlights the need for increased promotion of computer science in the earlier grades to nurture this enjoyment.
Currently, I am collaborating with John Knox Christian School, which is revamping its computer science and technology curriculum. Working with the Director of Curriculum and Computer Science, we are developing a series of workshops to assist K-9 teachers in integrating computer science into their classrooms. This collaboration is an excellent opportunity as John Knox controls its curriculum from K-12, enabling longer-term assessment of student success through the workshops with the same group of students.
The central portion of the project is divided into four phases: Assessing Needs, Planning and Foundations, Integration, and Reflection.
To ensure alignment with the school’s desired outcomes and address the specific needs of K-9 teachers, a survey will be created and distributed to all K-9 teachers. The survey aims to gather information on teachers’ objectives, knowledge levels, and areas of interest in computer science. The survey includes choices for dedicated topics such as programming, computational thinking, artificial intelligence, game development, and computer hardware. The project will tailor its objectives and content to meet the needs and interests of the teachers. The survey will be sent out during the first week of summer break.
Planning and Foundations:
This phase involves conducting a workshop covering computer science fundamentals, including vocabulary, problem-solving, and demystifying computer science. The workshop will also focus on integrating hands-on activities for teachers to experience and practice computer science concepts firsthand. Teachers will be guided in designing activities that promote problem-solving, collaboration, and critical thinking skills. Additionally, resources such as coding platforms, educational apps, and lesson plans will be provided to support teachers in implementing computer science activities beyond the workshop. By the end of the workshop, teachers should have a plan to incorporate computer science concepts into an existing lesson. This workshop is scheduled for the first professional development day in September 2023.
Teachers will execute their plans to integrate computer science concepts into the classroom during the integration stage. One strategy for this stage is to have coaches co-teach a computer science lesson alongside the classroom teacher. Initially, the director and I will act as coaches, but the plan is to train coaches for future iterations. Co-teaching allows the teacher to observe and learn from the coach’s expertise and experience, helping teachers gain confidence and deepen their understanding. The coach can help guide students through hands-on activities and will provide positive reinforcement, celebrate teachers’ achievements, and acknowledge their efforts in integrating computer science concepts. In addition to co-teaching, coaches will observe regularly and provide teachers with constructive feedback. Classroom observations, either in person or through video recordings, will be conducted to assess the implementation of computer science lessons and the effectiveness of teaching strategies. Coaches will then provide feedback, highlighting strengths and offering suggestions for improvement. This feedback loop will enable teachers to reflect on their practice, refine their instructional techniques, and make continuous progress in integrating computer science effectively.
Integration is ongoing, and teachers require continued support beyond the initial stages. Follow-up meetings, workshops, or online forums will be organized to facilitate knowledge sharing, questions, and further guidance. These support mechanisms will help sustain the momentum and provide teachers with ongoing professional development and collaboration opportunities. Coaches will curate and share relevant resources, including lesson plans, coding activities, and best practices, to further support teachers’ integration efforts. This stage is scheduled for the third professional development day in November 2023.
Analyzing the Design
Using Adria Steinberg’s (1998) six A’s of evaluating project design, my proposed project aligns with these principles, ensuring the successful integration of CS into K-9 classrooms.
Academic Rigor: The project emphasizes challenging and intellectually stimulating CS content. It provides opportunities for students to engage in practical problem-solving, critical thinking, and analytical reasoning. The project also encourages teachers to adopt a different mindset when teaching CS.
Authenticity: The project provides real-world contexts and experiences that connect CS concepts to students’ lives and interests. It includes relating CS to authentic scenarios, which enhances student motivation and engagement in other subjects. By establishing these connections, the project makes CS more relevant and meaningful to students.
Applied Learning: The project emphasizes the hands-on application of CS knowledge and skills. It encourages teachers to apply CS-related skills to different activities in the classroom. This approach allows students to experiment, problem-solve, and apply CS principles in real-world contexts.
Active Exploration: The project encourages students to explore CS concepts through inquiry-based and self-reflective learning. It creates an environment that nurtures teachers’ and students’ curiosity, exploration, and independent thinking; this fosters a sense of ownership in their CS learning journeys.
Adult Relationships: The project recognizes the importance of fostering supportive and meaningful connections between students and adult mentors or educators. By incorporating coaches or mentors into the framework, the project provides students (and teachers) opportunities to interact with CS professionals, experts, or mentors. These interactions offer guidance, share real-world experiences, and serve as role models for students.
Assessment: The project includes an assessment plan to evaluate student learning and program effectiveness. It incorporates post-integration surveys and other assessment strategies to measure the impact of CS integration on student learning outcomes. Gathering feedback from stakeholders informs program improvements and ensures ongoing effectiveness.
To effectively integrate computer science into K-9 classrooms, conducting one or two workshop iterations is needed. This allows for refinement and improvement of the workshop content and delivery based on feedback and insights from the initial sessions. During each iteration, it is important to collect feedback from participating teachers. Assessing the teachers’ comfort levels with integrating computer science concepts and their perceived efficacy in implementing the learned strategies in their classrooms will help gauge the workshop’s effectiveness. Additionally, student learning outcomes can be evaluated through pre- and post-workshop assessments to measure students’ knowledge growth, skills development, and attitude toward computer science. Comparing these assessments will provide evidence of the workshop’s impact on student learning.
Once the initial iterations of the workshop have been conducted and evaluated, the next step is to engage rural area schools with a more concrete plan. Building on the lessons learned and feedback from the initial workshops, it is essential to develop a targeted approach specifically tailored to the needs and challenges of rural schools. Further changes to the workshop may include solutions to overcome unique barriers such as limited resources, infrastructure challenges, or teacher training opportunities. Designing the workshop to accommodate these conditions will increase its relevance and effectiveness in rural settings.
If the workshop successfully enhances teacher comfort levels and promotes student learning, developing a Professional Development Program (PDP) at the university is an excellent opportunity. A PDP would offer a more structured and comprehensive training program for teachers seeking to integrate computer science into their K-9 classrooms. The Education Department can collaborate with the School of Computing Science and instructional design experts to design a robust PDP curriculum. This curriculum should address the specific needs of teachers, providing them with theoretical knowledge, practical skills, and ongoing support to integrate computer science concepts into their classrooms effectively.
Computer Science Education Stats. (n.d.). Code.org. https://code.org/promote/stats
Brown, E., & Brown, R. (n.d.). The Effect of Advanced Placement Computer Science Course Taking on College Enrollment. http://www.westcoastanalytics.com/uploads/6/9/6/7/69675515/longitudinal_study_-_combined_report_final_3_10_20__jgq_.pdf
CS Journeys Resources: Mentorship and community. (n.d.). Code.org. Retrieved June 3, 2023, from https://code.org/beyond/mentors-and-community
Steinberg, A. (1998). Real learning, real work : school-to-work as high school reform. Routledge.
K–12 Computer Science Framework. (n.d.). K12cs.org. https://k12cs.org/