christine mcdonnell

Spreading Innovation in Your District’s Computer Science Program

Spreading Innovation in Your District’s Computer Science Program

Barbara Kurshan (Innovation Advisor at the University of Pennsylvania) believes that education could use a redesign. She recently published an article in Forbes titled The Work Of Ecosystem Enablers: Spreading Innovation In K12 Education. In it, she outlines the suggested qualities of an educational experience that enables students to thrive in our global world.

While Barbara focuses on education overall, her article features powerful insights that apply especially to computer science. Christine McDonnell, CEO and Co-Founder of Codelicious, sat down to discuss some of the themes of the article and how they apply to computer science programs nationwide.

Each question below offers some background, so no need to read the full article before reading this post!

Question 1 - The article says that schools need to create efficiencies to enable all schools (not just those with large budgets or dedicated teachers) to innovate. What are some of the challenges in creating efficiencies in computer science education today, and how can we address them?

We’ve spoken with many elementary and middle schools, and two recurring challenges we hear about are educator turnover and standards-compliance. First, many schools do not have the budget to hire a dedicated computer science teacher. “We have been in situations where a school was ready to teach computer science, but for a multitude of reasons find themselves without a teacher,” Christine McDonnell says. “Our curriculum is transportable across grades, so whether you have teacher turnover or need a substitute teacher for the classroom, there is an opportunity to drive efficiencies by leveraging curriculum that already exists.”

Second, many computer science activities are random and episodic; it is difficult to find a computer science curriculum that drives toward adopted state and national standards. As a result, administrators struggle to standardize the student experience across schools in their district. That is why the Codelicious Curriculum is written with standards in mind. “Why should every educator have to reinvent the wheel in a particular school or district to deliver student outcomes?” Christine says. “Codelicious creates efficiencies by providing a common set of lesson plans that drive toward standards but also establish commonality in curriculum across an entire district.”

Find out more how the Codelicious Curriculum addresses these two efficiency challenges.

Question 2 - According to the 8 Great Leaps, technology should be “embedded into the heart of learning and relationship-building.'' How can schools use technology to build relationships, both in the classroom and in the community?

Technology is at the heart of computer science education. In the classroom, educators can teach project-based computer science lessons that encourage communication and collaboration. Codelicious helps to foster this type of relationship building. “Codelicious is an interactive computer science curriculum that is taught by an educator, but facilitates student-centered learning,” Christine explains. Educators empower students to take charge of their own learning experience, which builds mutual trust and respect.

Furthermore, the Codelicious Curriculum includes Unplugged activities that help students learn about various STEM careers. These discussions connect students with opportunities in the community, exposing them to careers they could explore in the future.

Question 3 - The article mentions that schools tend to adopt and adapt the practices of other local schools. How have you seen this play out in Computer Science?    

Schools with computer science programs are charting new territory. We’ve seen many schools piloting new computer science programs so they are ready to scale their offerings in the next 12-18 months as adopted state standards come into effect. 

Even if state standards are on the distant horizon, schools and districts starting now are at an advantage. They have a period of trial and error, and they are able to customize a program that will best fit their individual needs. Once computer science standards do go into effect, however, schools that have not yet implemented CS programs can adopt and adapt elements of existing curriculum. “When we see schools and districts find success with a model, it builds confidence for schools and districts around them,” Christine says.  

Question 4 - The article makes the distinction between "scaling" (like the old industrial business model) vs. "spreading" (which offers flexibility and adaptation). What do you think of this distinction? 

“The thing I like about ‘spreading’ is that every school navigates computer science implementation differently,” Christine says. It implies the understanding that each school and district is unique; there is no one-size-fits-all solution in computer science education. For example, each school may structure their day differently. One teacher could have a 90 minute computer science block every other day, while another teaches computer science for 20 minutes every day. This greatly affects the type and amount of material a teacher can cover. The spreading of computer science curriculum allows educators and administrators to make decisions that are best for their districts. 

Question 5 - The article recommends the mass-adoption of “model components”, which are cost-effective, streamlined, and efficient lesson plans. These components can then be adapted for each school’s needs. How does Codelicious exemplify the qualities of a model component?

Codelicious is a cost-effective solution because schools receive only the materials that achieve their goals. There are no extra resources to organize; educators only get the materials they will use.   

Next, Codelicious is streamlined because the curriculum reduces friction for accelerating computer science into the classroom. “An educator has everything they need, from lesson plans, to project files, to printable worksheets, discussion topics, and formative assessments,” Christine lists. “We create a comprehensive environment for delivering this curriculum.”

Finally, Codelicious is efficient because it is aligned with adopted state and CSTA standards. The curriculum also cross-walks with many other core subjects, like math, English, science, and social studies. Teachers do not need time for additional lesson-planning. The Codelicious Curriculum seamlessly fits into any existing time in the school day.  

Want to get a feel for the model components of the Codelicious Curriculum? Download a free coding lesson.

Conclusion

Currently, there is a lot of opportunity to advance computer science education. Schools can take steps to create more efficiencies around educator turnover and standards-compliance. Educators and students can partner to create lasting relationships through project-based activities and community outreach. At a district level, administrators can work together to adapt existing pieces of curriculum as states continue to implement computer science standards. The takeaway is we are all learning together. As we grow into this new ecosystem of education, there is a lot to be excited about.