Introducing Elementary Computer Science Standards!

Computer Science has a problem. In the past few years, educators have been hoodwinked by flashy games and deceptive messaging into believing that students could be “taught to code” by letting their students play a game for an hour. Unfortunately, like in every other subject, this isn’t the case. No, you cannot teach your students computer science with just a game.

When coding was first introduced a few years ago, a self-driven, easy to use game was necessary. It needed to be introduced in a quick way for teachers without any previous CS knowledge to be able to fit it into their lessons. However, over the past few years, things have changed. Over 350 MILLION people have written a ‘line of code’ and millions of teachers have seen the impact CS can have. Computer Science is the single most important topic being taught to the youth of the world today. So why isn’t it being taught consistently?

At Kodable, we have unprecedented influence on how computer science is being taught in schools. We have been used in over half of the elementary schools in the United States, and are the most widely used elementary programming curriculum in the world. Which is why it is so discouraging to hear so many teachers tell us that an hour of coding in December is enough or ‘We just let them play a couple free coding games, we didn’t really want to set up a class or teach a lesson.’ Playing a coding game without structured instruction completely misses so many of the benefits computer science education offers, and students are being failed in the process.

More girls are not going to be encouraged to code just from a game. Without the instruction and encouragement of a teacher, students will self-select for computer science the same as before, and we will end up with the same demographically stunted, male dominated workforce we have now.

So, we’ve decided to do something about it. Today, we’re taking a stand for Computer Science.

Laying the ground work for smarter CS Instruction

First, I’m proud to introduce one of the world’s first Elementary Computer Science Standards. Led by our own Head of Curriculum – Brie Gray, the K-12 CS Framework (2016) guided the writing and development process before the standards went through multiple reviews by Kodable’s Curriculum Advisory Board. The board consisted of a team of educators from Stanford, Teach for America, and school districts around the country, we believe this is the first step to teaching computer science the right way.

Following the S.M.A.R.T methodology (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, Time-based), these computer science standards provide a roadmap for educators to teach CS with measurable student outcomes. It is important to note that these standards are not specific to Kodable. While over the next few weeks, we will be revamping our entire product around these standards, educators are free to use any coding program they would like with these standards. The most important thing is always the student, and if Kodable does not fit with a certain school, we don’t want the student to be left out.

While there are some drafts currently available for K-12 that include a limited K-5 set of computer science standards, they are more of an outline or framework than comprehensive standards. The Elementary Computer Science Standards are by far the most comprehensive available, including a wide variety of concepts not addressed by others such as social emotional learning and communication skills. Our standards focus on developing the whole student, and really try to bring out all of the benefits that come with learning computer science, not just their ‘coding ability’.

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Download your copy of the computer science standards

Focus on developing the whole student

Second, The Kodable K-5 Computer Science standards were written to provide teachers with a roadmap for developing the whole student through a computer science education. The strands within the standards are comprehensive and include elements beyond programming concepts (e.g., social emotional learning, programming impact, ESL). Our goal is to reach ALL students and see computer science become part of a complete elementary education.

It has always been our mission to make programming and computer science accessible to all students and educators. Since the beginning of Kodable, we have consistently heard how teaching students to code has brought about growth in many other areas. Students who normally didn’t engage with their peers began to open up and lead the class in programming. ESL students began to overcome tough language barriers through strengthened perseverance. Students struggling in math or testing improved their performance by practicing their problem solving skills in programming.

The Computer Science Standards focus on more than just programming and critical thinking because CS teaches more than just that. Computer science expands to all areas of learning, so you can now definitively say to your administrators that integrating computer science will help your students beyond just problem solving. Now you can tech with confidence knowing their growth can be measured, connected back to programming, and most importantly, leave a lasting impact.

What does this mean for Kodable?

Lastly, we will be requiring all teachers to create a Kodable account and set up their classes to use Kodable. It will also no longer be possible to use Kodable as just a game. Students simply will not achieve mastery in any standard without at least one off-screen lesson being taught, whether they are using Kodable or any other tool, and we feel our product should reflect that reality.

This decision was not made lightly. We understand how strapped for time teachers already are in the classroom, and will be making a number of improvements, such as QR code and picture based login, to preserve teachers’ already limited time. You can now be wholly focused on actual instruction, and not class setup or iPad management.

We know this will not work for everyone, and luckily there are plenty of other quick-start coding products that do not wish to adopt this type of structured learning environment; some programming education is always better than none! But again, the student is always the top priority for every educator, including ourselves, and we feel like this is the best way to create a structured environment that promotes actual student mastery of concepts, not just a fun game to play.

This is an exciting time for computer science, and for Kodable! Every educator we have given a ‘sneak peek’ at our computer science standards has been incredibly excited, and we know you will love them too. As eager as we are to get them to you, we are even more eager to hear your feedback! You can always reach us at our website – www.kodable.com, or by emailing support at support@kodable.com if you have any questions or concerns. We’re always here to help!

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! 

Metacognition and Computer Science

We’ve all been there. I was standing in front of my 30 fourth graders, modeling a multi-step equation involving fractions and decimals. Talking through the problem, I didn’t even catch myself misplacing my decimal point in the solution. “A kid mistake,” as one of my students pointed out.

A “kid mistake” or a learning opportunity? Talk about a teachable moment! Thinking about our thought process, formally known as metacognition, is not just a math, reading, or computer science skill- it’s a life skill.

How does computer science activate metacognition?

  • Thinking critically. In computer science, there are so many ways to solve problems, execute an idea, or complete a task. Like math, multiple paths can get us to the same answer and everyone may solve the same problem a little differently. Exercising metacognition allows students to think about different ways to solve a problem and choose the best possible solution.
  • Problem-solving mindset. Overcoming failure leads to success in computer science. You fail and you fail often. Having a problem-solving mindset allows you to get to the best path forward and overcome failures.
  • Debugging:  “Did I make a mistake?” “What was my plan?” “Where is the mistake and how did it happen?” “What can I do next?”
  • Comprehension: Think reading comprehension! Teaching computer science concepts off-screen allows students to think about what concepts and skills are being applied as they work in coding apps or games. Always encourage students to think about what skills to use, what potential next moves could be, and to self-monitor their process as they go; just as they would when reading.

Four ways to encourage Metacognition through Computer Science

  1. Ask questions. Whether you know anything about computer science or not (you’ll learn a lot by doing this), you can still ask your students questions while they’re on coding apps and prompt them to think about their thought process. This isn’t any different from how you would develop reading comprehension, by the way!
  • “What problem are you trying to solve?”
  • “What are your options?”
  • “How will you decide what the best solution is?”
  • “What is your next move?”
  • “How will you fix your mistakes?”
  • “What are you making?” “How will you do that?”

Follow-up Questions:

  • “Tell more more about that.”
  • “How is your idea different than your peers’?”
  • “How did you decide that was the best option?”
  • “Have you considered ___?”
  1. Organize and facilitate classroom discussions. Giving students a space to talk about their thinking allows them to think deeper about their thought process and put it into words- taking metacognition a step farther. You don’t have to be a computer science expert to set the stage for students to talk about their ideas and strategies. Head here for some great classroom discussion activities that require minimum planning and are easily transferable to STEM.
  2. Give students choice and ownership (across content areas). When students are invested and responsible for what they’re doing, they are more likely to be intentional about their work. Mindlessly breezing through coding apps or programs is far less of an issue when students are curious and want to engage with their work- commence debugging!
  3. Model it! Talk through your thought processes, what you’re thinking as you’re doing a read aloud, and capitalize on your own mistakes. Find (or make) opportunities where you can audibly go back through your thought process and correct mistakes. This will benefit students in a few ways: they’ll see a real life example of metacognition, they’ll remember it and try it on their own, and they’ll realize everyone makes mistakes and can correct or catch them by thinking about their thought process as they go.

Opportunities are endless to model thinking strategies for students across academic standards and real-life situations. Not being afraid to take a leap with computer science and trusting your own strategies for developing students in other areas is key, and that is certainly something worth thinking about.

Testing + Coding: How do they fit? #KidsCanCode Chat 4/12/16

Spring has sprung and #KidsCanCode is back for some more great conversations about computer science.  This week we discussed how programming education can fit in with your testing schedule. Take a break from the dull week of assessment with some unplugged fun or use computer science as a way to prep the brain. Here are some tips from the #KidsCanCode community!