4 Ways to Accelerate Access to Computer Science in Schools

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Photo Credit: Codelicious

As schools seek to accelerate the implementation of computer science into K-12 classrooms during a time of COVID-19, challenges and opportunities abound. While some schools have used these challenges to leap forward, many schools are realizing that introducing CS to students isn’t enough to truly integrate computer science in the classroom.

As overwhelming as this may be today, not that long ago the challenges were even more difficult. Many schools have realized the benefits of introducing students to computer science, but few of them have successfully cracked the code to make integrating computer science skills a K-12 reality.

Oftentimes computer science opportunities were defined by access to funding and, even then, were frequently limited to stand-alone, interest-generation activities, or simply afterschool programs.

All along the way students, parents, teachers, and administrators began asking why computer science wasn’t part of the school day.

While the demand for computer science was growing, the challenges also began mounting. Schools realized, that to support skills of the 21st century learner and establish a sustainable computer science program, they would need to address 4 key challenges: reducing barriers for adoption, sourcing and maintaining standards-aligned curriculum, recruiting and training instructors, as well as access to vital technologies, such as devices, offline tools, and internet access.

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Photo Credit: Codelicious

Reducing Barriers for Adoption

Access to technologies, devices, and funds are ongoing challenges for providing equitable access to computer science. In a COVID-19 environment, the need for flexibility to provide instruction in a classroom setting, from a virtual or home setting, or both has become a focus as well. Strategies for dealing with these real challenges include curriculums that incorporate both online and offline activities, provide multiple modalities for achieving student outcomes, and optimize funding options for curriculum integration.

Curriculums that not only build computer science skills through projects that require the use of devices, but also empower learning through “unplugged” projects (i.e. projects that do not require devices), collaboration opportunities, and real world applications allow for multiple learning modalities of engagement, and enable more blended learning options.

Controlling costs is typically a leading concern when schools seek to bring on any new curriculum, and computer science is no exception. Schools have started to navigate the use of funding sources like title funds, or for many states, grants are available to districts that demonstrate readiness. CSforALL has identified funders who may be suited to help you get a head start. See the full list here.

Optimizing Learning Time

One challenge of implementing a computer science curriculum is simply determining where it should fit within the school day, assuring that ALL students are provided with the opportunity to build these future ready skills. Many elementary schools tend to program their CS offering as part of a specials rotation or integration into core content instruction, middle and intermediate schools often find time offering computer science electives, and high schools are making computer science a graduation requirement.

Incorporating computer science into the school day is not without challenges, specifically making time for another subject within an already full learning schedule. Computer science curriculum, if not offered as a stand alone elective or required course, must optimize student growth by fully aligning with computer science outcomes but also reinforcing education standards and competencies in other content areas in order to save learning time. For example, teaching a computer science module that focuses on coordinate planes would leverage math outcomes. Or incorporating a module that engages students in a writing exercise on STEM careers to leverage ELA outcomes.

Sourcing and Maintaining Standards-Aligned Curriculum

While the efforts required to source and develop computer science curriculum are challenging enough, it’s simply not a one-time effort. Much like the apps and operating systems within our smartphones, computer science curriculum is impacted by frequent updates in technology. As the speed of technology updates drive the relevancy of the learning environment, computer science curriculum must be updated as frequently.

Schools choosing to curate their own curriculum from a variety of free, online, or licensed sources might find that keeping the curriculum current is challenging when navigating the ongoing changes in technology. This becomes even more complicated in trying to keep curriculum updated while planning year-long curriculum progressions across multiple grade levels.

Recruiting and Training Instructors

As schools seek to build out their computer science departments, some are able to leverage their existing teacher base, while others need to recruit additional resources. In each case, it’s helpful for both recruitment and retention, to have a curriculum in place that isn’t dependent on a single instructor’s skill, experience, or resources. Freeing instructors up from sourcing curriculum allows them to focus more of their time and energy on how to teach, and helps schools focus on scaling the department.

School districts interested in additional resources can check out the Finding a Home for CS in Schools of Education project.

“Codelicious has been instrumental in helping us deliver computer science curriculum to underserved regions of Northeast Pennsylvania, which is a vital element of our strategy. In addition to the content, their ability to provide professional development to our instructors was a distinct advantage.” –Shanie Mohamed, Economic Development Specialist of Wilkes-Barre Connect, Project Manager for Coding the Coal Region

As an organization that helps communities combat these challenges, CSforALL seeks partnerships with companies to provide quality CS education to every child in the United States. From the beginning, Codelicious has sought to prioritize access to computer science for all students. We feel deeply aligned with the mission of CSforALL, which is why Codelicious is so proud to be a member of this amazing organization.

To join in the conversation about improving access for computer science in the classroom, consider making a 2020 Commitment.

About the Author: Christine McDonnell, CEO of Codelicious, is passionate about creating access and removing barriers to teaching and learning computer science. Christine was a middle school VEX Robotics team coach for 4 years, and her teams went to World’s each of those 4 years. She has worked with Indiana’s TechPoint Foundation for Youth to train CoderDojo champions in the computer science and hardware integration aspects of setting up and maintaining a Dojo. She is a continuing member of Women & Hi Tech. Christine graduated Magna Cum Laude from Vanderbilt University with a Bachelor of Engineering, Electrical Engineering and Computer Science. She then earned her MBA in Corporate Strategy and Marketing from the University of Michigan. Prior to her role at Codelicious, she worked as a managing partner and founder of McDonnell & Associates. She has also dedicated time to McKinsey & Company, DuPont, and the Nashville Area Chamber of Commerce. Christine is currently the Co-Founder and CEO of Codelicious, a provider of full-year computer science curriculum for K-12.

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The national hub for the Computer Science for All movement, making high-quality computer science education an integral part of K-12 education in the US.

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