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  • Writer's pictureLCS ITRTs

Computer Science Education

Updated: Nov 22, 2021

Next week [December 7-13] is the nationally recognized Computer Science Education Week #CSEdWeek. For the past few years, many teachers in Lynchburg City Schools have joined in with the Hour of Code initiative inviting their students to participate in at least one hour of coding throughout the week. This year we would like to challenge all of our LCS classroom teachers and staff members to join in the fun and raise awareness of the importance of Computer Science integration. In this blog post, we will offer some background about Virginia’s CS standards as well as give you 8 simple steps to follow to get started with them in your classroom.

Computer Science Education Week is an annual call to action in order to inspire K-12 students to learn computer science, advocate for equity in computer science education, and celebrate the contributions of students, teachers, and partners to the field. It is important to note that Computer Science isn’t just a stand alone course that is offered in middle and high school, but that in Virginia, Computer Science standards are to be integrated throughout the core curriculum.

Virginia is leading the way in Computer Science education and is referred to as the digital dominion. It has the highest density of computer science jobs in the country and became the first state to recognize Computer Science as an essential literacy for all children. Currently, there are over 25,000 open computing jobs and only 2,000 computer science graduates. In 2016, Virginia developed Computer Science standards to be integrated into all K-8 core content areas. It is vital that all of our students get exposure now to computer science skills and ideas so that they are prepared for the future. Many jobs our students will have don’t even exist yet. Giving them exposure to critical thinking, problem solving skills, and even CS vocabulary will allow them to have the background needed in order to be prepared for the unknown future.

We recommend that you read through the Computer Science standards for your grade level or subject area to build awareness. The Computer Science standards for K-12 are organized into six strands: Algorithms and Programming, Computing Systems, Cybersecurity, Data and Analysis, Impacts of Computing, and Networks and the Internet. The CS standards are vertically aligned and reflect the gradual progression in the development of skills. For example, in Kindergarten, students are introduced to the term algorithm which is really just a set of step by step instructions by retelling a story or a set of events with the beginning, middle, and end. By fourth grade some other skills and vocabulary are added to the standard, such as sequences, loops, and variables. Then by eighth grade students should be able to use block based or text based programming languages and include if-statements, loops, and nested conditionals.

When you talk about integrating these standards, it simply means that students will not have a stand alone course to teach these concepts like is offered in our middle schools and high schools. It should be intentionally included and embedded within Math, English, Science, and Social Studies classes when possible. I’m sure when I referenced the Kindergarten skill earlier of retelling a story with beginning, middle, and end, any Kindergarten teacher reading thought, “Well I already teach that!” That’s exactly what we hope happens with many of these standards! We, as teachers, just need to have awareness of these computer science standards so that the vocabulary can be thrown in throughout different topics in these core courses for exposure. So instead of just talking about the sequence or order of events, bringing in the vocabulary term algorithm and guiding students through retelling the story (or creating an algorithm) themselves! Without us leading our youngest students and helping to provide the needed background information throughout core content areas, students wouldn’t have any CS exposure until middle school and high school Computer Science electives classes. And even then, I know that I never took these electives as a high schooler because I assumed it was all complex coding that would be way over my head. But I think if I had exposure at a younger age, I would have realized that I really enjoy solving methodical problems and creating digitally which is a big part of Computer Science.

You may be thinking about how overwhelming this topic is as a classroom teacher who already is desperate for more of that four letter word [TIME], especially right now with the state of our world and remote learning. Below are 8 recommendations to getting started:

1. Take baby steps

Integrating Computer Science into your curriculum is not something that will happen overnight. Start small, with just one little piece and create a goal to expand this whether it be monthly, each quarter, or each year.

2. Give yourself some grace

As with everything in teaching, don’t be too hard on yourself! Allow yourself to make mistakes as you're navigating this new to you idea and learn and grow with your students! While they’re trying a new activity, try it with them!

3. Familiarize yourself with the Standards

The Computer Science standards were developed in 2016 and are on the VDOE Website. Take a few minutes to explore the standards and the curriculum framework so that you can be familiar with what is expected. The VDOE also offers lesson plans with integration ideas for the CS content into the core curriculum.

4. Focus on one thing you already teach and put a CS spin on it

After looking at the CS standards, search for one standard that is something you feel like would be easily incorporated into your current core curriculum. Read the “Context of the Standard” section and brainstorm how the context of the CS standard can meld with your core curriculum SOL. Some lend themselves to be more easily integrated than others. Come up with one quick integrated activity. Example: If you are a 5th grade reading/writing teacher, you could have students write their own step by step algorithm to have a robot perform a task. Students already need to be able to write instructions, but by simply incorporating the idea of an algorithm, you give students an extra jump on CS exposure. Adding these simple steps to your lesson planning/writing routine will provide invaluable experiences and exposure for your students. Though it seems like a small, easy, step (or maybe not so much!?) it will give your students background knowledge that can then be built upon.

5. Begin using CS vocabulary with students

Look at the “Essential Vocabulary” provided in the VDOE curriculum framework for each CS SOL for your grade level/content area. Find what CS vocabulary you can easily throw into your normal teaching conversation.

6. Participate in the Hour of Code

The LCS ITRTs have created some Hour of Code choice boards as well as a Beyond the Hour of Code Computer Science choice board that are linked below to give all of our teachers an easy starting point. Teachers can simply share the appropriate Hour of Code board with their students, or dig into the Beyond the Hour of Code resources to see how they can take Computer Science to the next level in their classrooms.

📱 K-2 Hour of Code Choice Board

📟 3-5 Hour of Code Choice Board

💾 6-12 Hour of Code Choice Board

🤖 CS Beyond the Hour of Code

7. Use your ITRT

Want to know the best starting point for your subject/ grade level, bounce some ideas off someone, or have someone come into your classroom to lead your students through their first CS experience? We would love to help you! Reach out to your building ITRT and he/she will invite another expert to help if needed.

8. Code Virginia PD

Code Virginia is a nonprofit that partners with schools, parents, and communities to bring equitable computer science education to all of Virginia’s students. They offer a variety of computer science professional development courses for current Virginia public school K-12 educators at no cost.

Code VA believes that teachers supporting teachers is the best way to prepare Virginia’s classrooms to teach computer science. Facilitator faculty members are your peers – current classroom teachers from Virginia school districts.

Code VA has some free PD opportunities next week to celebrate Computer Science Education Week! Click here to register.

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