Piloting: Step 3 to Implementing Computer Science in Elementary

This is part 3 of a 4 part series where we will cover each stage of implementing computer science in elementary school based on thousands of conversations with educators.

After casual exposure and experimentation with multiple options, you’ve had your “WOW!” moment and you’re ready to pilot one program with structured goals and meaning. When piloting anything new with goals of expansion down the road, you likely have the support of administration and colleagues and are no longer the lone wolf. We’ve worked with thousands of teachers and administrators in this stage of implementing computer science in elementary.  Here are some tips to successfully move from a small-scale pilot to full implementation.

What does a pilot look like?

  • What is the  pilot stage? The pilot stage comes after casual exposure and a structured experimentation and is the initial launch of one specific program. The pilot stage is the final step before a full, school or district-wide implementation and serves as a “test run” to prepare and learn from.
  • Who is involved? In the pilot stage, school administration is involved, as well as at least one teacher participating in the pilot. At the district level, a superintendent may be involved as well, and parents are aware of the pilot programming happening in the community.
  • Logistics: School-specific logistics are hashed out in the pilot stage. This includes who is teaching, how often, where the program fits into the daily schedule, what resources are used, what devices are being used and how.
  • Goals, learning objectives, and data: Goals and learning objectives are clearly defined, and a method of data collection is established to evaluate the results of the pilot. This is essential moving forward, as data-driven results will drive instruction and support the value of the program you’re piloting before implementing on a larger scale.
  • Training: The teacher or teachers piloting the program are prepared and have taken the time to get to know the tools they’ll be using. At this stage, teachers should feel confident and supported.

5 Tips for Piloting a Computer Science Program

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Set clear, measurable goals.

Leading up to a pilot, you’ve experimented with different programs and your goals have developed or shifted accordingly. When kicking off a program pilot, your goals need to be clearly defined and measurable in order to evaluate data or results that demonstrate student outcomes. This is essential to move forward; your administration will want and need to see data that proves results and supports the awesome anecdotal proof you’re gathering in your classroom.  We suggest sitting down and writing out your goals for the year before getting started with your students! Feeling ambitious? Set goals for the next 5 years! You’ll get anidea of where you want to end up.

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Start small.

School districts start small by piloting programs in a few schools before adopting a district-wide program. At the school level, we often see pilots beginning with one class or grade (depending on the school size). Then you can expand to include the whole school. By starting small, you have a more focused sample size that you can work with intensely, establish logistics, and flexibly bend as you learn during the pilot.

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Let people in on the magic!

To go from a pilot to a school-wide program, you need support from administration, colleagues, and parents. You want everyone to be excited about the learning process and potential. Help everyone understand the extent of what you’ve started!

Invite administration, colleagues, and parents to see you teach a lesson. If you can’t (or your colleagues can’t) find a way to witness it live:

  • Record a lesson and ask for time to present at PD or a school event like Open House or Coding Night.
  • Share documentation and photos on your classroom walls, bulletin board, or class website.
  • Have students present and talk about the work they are doing and show parents and staff how to use the program.

Having support and excitement during the pilot is a catalyst for full implementation and will get everyone excited about computer science in elementary.

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Have a scalable plan.

Consider logistics that will affect the whole school before starting the pilot:

  • What devices will be used and are there enough?
  • Does the school have security or firewall issues that will need to be resolved?
  • Is there opportunity or time to train staff?
  • Will it be isolated to technology or integrated with the classroom teachers?
  • Is there a plan to purchase (budget money set aside, grants written, funding secured) and is everyone on board?
  • How will it work in the schedule (daily, once a week, used during one quarter or semester, etc.)?

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Being prepared is half the victory.

It is important that the teacher or teachers piloting the program are prepared. Take the extra time to review the program with everyone participating, and offer training to those who need it. Contact the program or software company to see if they offer professional development or support to teachers piloting the program. Being prepared will pay off in the long run!

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Fail forward.

You will fail. Failing forward is about embracing failure as a learning experience. Utilize the opportunity to be better next time, knowing the purpose of a pilot is to learn and prepare. At times, you may feel like you’re in over your head or you may not see the immediate value in what you’re doing but approach the experience ready to fail forward. It will have long-lasting benefits personally and professionally!

Have you conducted a pilot in your school? Tell us about something you learned in the comments! 

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