Experimentation: Step 2 to Implementing Computer Science in Elementary

This is part 2 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.

An iPad loaded with all of the latest and greatest coding apps can make you feel like a kid in a candy store: you want to sample everything before making a decision. Thousands of teachers started using Kodable as part of a “try it all and see what sticks” experimentation, are now implementing a computer science curriculum in their elementary schools. We have learned a lot from teachers about the experimental stage of computer science education and how it can lead to piloting one CS program school-wide and we’re excited to share our favorite tips!

What does the experimental stage look like?

  • What is the experimental stage? The experimental stage comes after casual exposure to coding and programming education in the form of apps, games, or unplugged activities not necessarily aligned with any objectives.  This stage is centered around exploration and experimenting with what will work, answering the question, “How can we implement this with more meaning?” Experimentation often takes the form of small-scaled structure around coding; usually after school coding clubs, lunch clubs, or coding in an after school setting.
  • Who is involved? At the experimental stage, it’s often one teacher (usually the technology teacher), after school staff, or volunteers getting their feet wet with coding. Sometimes the administration is leading the charge, or has programming on their radar but not ready to fully implement a clear structure for the school yet. The experimental stage is monumental in laying the groundwork for a strong support system and eventual large-scale rollout.
  • What resources are used? Teachers start with what’s free. Once it’s clear that a program has enough value to be purchased, schools find a way to get funding or include it in the budget. We almost always see teachers start with free content, trial periods, or free programs and once the benefits are clear the purchasing process begins. Closer to the pilot and implementation stages is when the financial investments for full computer science programs happen over  apps and free trial lessons.
  • What logistics are on the radar? During the experimental stage, the nitty gritty details aren’t quite hashed out but are important to be thinking about. Teachers are trying different things to find the best structure, where coding can fit into the schedule, and thinking about how to implement a fully structured program with meaning.
  • Where do goals and learning objectives come into play? Goals are essential to rolling out any new academic program, and computer science is no different. Without objectives, there won’t be meaning or a way to measure student outcomes. At the experimental stage, goals are unclear but exploring various options helps teachers define their goals. Seeing different possibilities and potential allows teachers and administration to define clear goals and eventually dive deeper into one program that is aligned with desired student outcomes.

So, how do you decide on which program you want to pilot?

Identify Benefits

During the experimentation stage, a lot of the decision comes down to potential. From the little bit you’ve seen, is there potential for academic value? Are students engaged? Does the program offer useful tools that you will need as a teacher and school to fully implement (content,resources, training for teachers, opportunities to learn, ability to track student data, etc.)? Once you can think about all of the different options, you should be able to answer which will have the most benefit for students and teachers to set everyone forward on a path to computer science success.

Assess Academic Value

There’s a huge and important difference between playing and learning. It’s important to consider which apps are unstructured and leave room for students to play without learning. Learning for elementary students can and should happen through playing, but the play needs to be structured and grounded in logic.  Choose an option that teaches and requires students to apply fundamental programming concepts.  Noting which apps seem to be rooted in logic and content that is supported with pedagogy will really help you make your decision- and will likely help you secure funding to implement on a larger scale.

Evaluate Feasibility

To move forward toward piloting a program, feasibility must be considered. Which program is one that provides proper resources, training, and professional development and permits staff to carry it out? Are there enough devices (iPads, Chromebooks, computers, etc.) for the programs you’re exploring or unplugged lessons to make it work? Can the staff commit to set up, training, and getting started? Answering these questions will help you see if there are any major roadblocks with the programs you’re exploring or minor bumps to iron out before piloting with one specific program.

Observe Collaboration

Programming is a unique subject area as it lends itself to (and at times depends on) collaboration. Consider which option allows for students to work together, share their work, talk about what they’re doing, or explain programming logic. Which option allows for teachers to seamlessly work together? Is there a program you’ve seen that has potential for students and teachers to learn and collaborate with each other? A program that encourages students to work in isolation and doesn’t teach them the language they need to practice metacognition or outwardly piece together what they’re working on may not be the right path to go down.

As you get ready to move into the third stage of implementing computer science in elementary, piloting a CS program, you’ll need to really start thinking about your goals and what program aligns. Once you do that, you’re ready to run with it! We’ve seen some amazing teachers narrow in and roll out successful pilots, and we’re excited to share their stories with you in parts 3 and 4 of our blog series next week.

Have you been experimenting with a variety of computer science programs? We’d love to hear how you narrowed in on a program that works for you and your school- leave it in the comment section below!

Casual Exposure: Step one to implementing computer science in elementary

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

Getting started in teaching computer science can seem like a daunting task. Many educators never start out thinking they will make it a long term thing. Many of the trailblazing educators who are now implementing a complete K-5 coding curriculum started out with one hour in December three years ago. This was their first introduction to computer science and the magic it can bring to an elementary classroom. It marked the beginning of the first step in implementing computer science in elementary with casual exposure to programming concepts.

 

What does the first step to implementing computer science in elementary look like?

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Who is involved?

Everyone is aware that there is some coding happening. Usually on a specific day or at a scheduled event. Teachers are often mildly interested until they see the spark of creativity, engagement, and collaboration happening in their students. Parents are also involved at this point through PTA volunteers or a special interest.

 

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What resources do people use?

Schools often download and install dozens of apps, tools, and resources for their students to play with and explore. This phase is characterized by unstructured learning through play. Don’t be afraid to try everything until you find what sticks!

 

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How much time is spent on coding?

Since this is a step characterized by exploration, many educators allow students to code during free-choice time and keep an eye on what tools are being chosen the most and what they’re learning from the exploration. Allow students to play in their own time, but don’t be afraid to schedule 30 minutes a week for free coding.

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What are the goals?

Since this step starts with a casual interest, there often aren’t defined goals. However, you will find that as you and your students spend more time coding, you’ll begin to get ideas about goals for your future in computer science. Keep these in mind, because they will be crucial to your progress in later steps.

 

Moving forward and implementing computer science in elementary

We see a lot of teachers get their start with Kodable through casual exposure- events like the Hour of Code, an iPad loaded with a variety of educational tools and apps for free time, or hearing about us from other teachers. So, how have our teachers run with this type of CS exposure and turned it into a full programming curriculum at their schools?  Here are some tips from our champion teachers.

 

  • Set Goals
    It’s hard to know what the best fit is without clear computer science goals for your school. Think about what you want everyone to get out of it- then you can move forward to find your best fit.
  • Test multiple programs and apps
    There’s a lot out there! How does each program or app you’re using align with your goals for student outcomes? Can you combine a few for the ultimate year of elementary CS? What will best fit with your schedule and make the most sense for you?
  • Get student feedback
    Are students not only loving the programs you’re using but learning and excited about learning? What are parents and other teachers hearing students talk about and engaged with? Talk to students about what they like, how it is helping them learn, and what their own goals are moving forward.
  • Drive your decisions with data and engagement
    If you notice student engagement like you’ve never seen before and it’s trickling into other content areas, run with the momentum! Maybe math scores are improving and critical thinking skills are shining- clear signs to see what benefits could lay ahead.

Moving to Step 2: Structured Experimentation can take some time, but keep working at it. There’s no one size fits all solution. We are all still figuring out how to implement computer science. Stay tuned for the next part of our series. We’ll dive deep into Step 2 and discuss tips and characteristics of the phase.

 

Does this sound familiar to you? Tell us how you got started with coding! Have you moved to step 2? Share your tips in the comments!

The 4 Steps to Implementing Computer Science in Elementary School

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

While the month of June brings a lull to the toil from the school year, we’re working hard to set you up with the resources you’ll need this summer as you prepare to do it all over again. Over the next four weeks, we’ll be taking the lessons we learned from our teachers this school year and sharing their coding implementation stories from beginning to end.

Over the past 3 years, computer science in elementary has come a long way. Trailblazing schools who were just getting started, have now fully integrated Computer Science into their curriculum. While the majority of schools are on their way to that point. At Kodable, we focus on talking to as many people as possible and working hard to meet their needs regardless of the stage of implementation. In these thousands of conversations, the four stages of implementing computer science in elementary school have become very clear.

The 4 Steps to Implementing Computer Science in Elementary School

Casual Exposure

The first step in teaching computer science in elementary school is often prompted by a colleague or community interest in the Hour of Code or other event promoting computer science awareness. The engagement and clear benefits of programming sparks further exploration. Schools often download and install dozens of apps, tools, and resources for their students to play with and explore. This phase is characterized by unstructured learning through play. Teachers are intrigued but apprehensive about doing more than proving the resources to their students. Students, however, are extremely engaged and encouraged to pursue whatever resource they choose. These are both important steps leading to the next phase of computer science integration.

Structured Experimentation

After testing the waters with various apps and tools, teachers have a “WOW!” moment with one (or a few) and decide to think seriously about how to use it in a structured way. Teachers start to think about how it can be used to further student learning, and how they can seriously make it part of their work. Not yet ready to hash out the nitty gritty details or objectives, teachers are mostly narrowing in on what seems to be the best fit. A lot of schools establish a club, after school, lunch or recess program for their students to test the conclusions they made in the Casual Exposure phase. This paves the way for teachers and admins to begin thinking about more goal-oriented programming experience for students.

Goal-Oriented Piloting

In this stage, teachers have seen clear benefits of a program or tool and are committed to finding a way to make it happen in their school. Clearly defined goals and objectives come in here, and a curriculum is tested with results that can be shared with others as an example. In the pilot stage, we often see one classroom starting the implementation, and then rolling the program out fully at the school or district level after seeing positive results. Some things to consider during this stage: Scheduling, devices, big-picture structure, and teaching time dedicated to programming.

Clearly Defined Implementation

After piloting, benefits and engagement are clear and the program is ready to be rolled out school or district-wide. A 1 to 5 year plan is in place, with support from administrators and key stakeholders. There is a clear momentum around programming education and the direct connection with academic achievement- this is an exciting time! As the program rolls out beyond the pilot, the number of students gaining access to programming education gradually expands.

It feels nice to FINALLY document all of this learning so that other educators can know what to expect in each of these phases. In this four-part series, we will dig deep into our knowledge banks and cover each stage in detail for you to use as a reference while your school forges ahead down this new path.

You can read more about the first stage here: Casual Exposure – the first step in elementary computer science.

What do you think of these four stages? Do you see similar things in your school or community? What stage is your school at?

Social Emotional Learning via Digital Citizenship Lessons

The most important lessons we learn in life center around social-emotional learning and becoming safe, responsible, and respectful adults. As 21st century citizens and learners, it has become essential for schools to teach social skills that will keep students safe online and allow them to thrive as learners using digital tools.

Before taking to the internet, iPad, or any educational app, create a structure in your classroom that will prepare students for the online learning world. Here are some quick tips to set the digital tone and some of our favorite resources for teaching digital citizenship:

Teach a Device-Free Lesson First

Not only will it double as a team-builder and improve your classroom culture, but teaching a lesson on digital citizenship without being online has huge benefits when students eventually get online. Just as you would define clear routines and structure in your classroom, the online classroom needs the same level of attention. Priming your students for what’s to come will prepare and excite them when it’s time to try out that new program, app, or online lesson.

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Have Students Make Real Life Connections

Engage with your students in a class discussion around safety in real life. Get students to think about how they are safe, responsible, and respectful when face to face with others. This will help them understand the internet as a giant collection of very real people and things (including consequences); even though they can’t always see what’s on the other side.

Take Advantage of Resources

Although the need to explicitly teach digital citizenship is recent, there are already resources just a few clicks away. Some awesome teachers have shared their digital citizenship lessons on personal blogs, and there are even companies working to create material that saves you the planning time. Check out one of our favorites, Common Sense Media, which will give you access to all of the materials you and your students need to stay safe online- for free!

The internet is an amazing resource, and we’re seeing students rise to new levels with access to so many programs and opportunities. As educators, it’s our job to teach our students how to live in the digital world and make sure the internet continues to be a place they thrive.

Have ideas or opinions on digital citizenship? Leave it in the comment section below!

#KidsCanCode Chat 4/26/16 Encouraging Metacognition in Computer Science

Tonight we chatted about how metacognition and computer science go hand in hand. Teachers shared tips, resources, best practices and ways they’re seeing a difference in their classes! Read more ways you can start encouraging metacognition in computer science below 🙂

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.

4 Earth Day Activities to Empower Your Students

Earth Day is quickly approaching. We can all take advantage of this chance to highlight what it truly means to take care of our planet.  Particularly in a time where every day seems to bring a new challenge for the human race.

There’s something extra special about seeing our students excel as human beings as well as academically. The proudest memories I had as a teacher go far beyond my students growing 3 grade levels in reading in one year. They include the not-so-small moments when I saw my students becoming awesome people.

Empowering our students to shine outside of the classroom is essential. It is also an excellent application of the critical thinking and problem-solving mindset we work so hard to cultivate. 

What on EARTH does this have to do with coding?

Computer Science is a living example of the 4 Cs (critical thinking, communication, collaboration, and creativity). Coding gives limitless opportunity to innovate for the Earth’s well-being. Below are some tips to get students using their skill sets on Earth’s big day:

Share stories of inspirational (kid!) innovators.

This is a great way to cover some Common Core ELA standards, depending on what grade(s) you teach! Have students research and present on green energy and green technology inventions- we particular enjoy some of these kid inventor’s ideas.

If you’re up for renting or purchasing, check out the Code Girl documentary with a wide range of inspiring ideas to better Earth and humanity.

Use current events to encourage and inspire.

Share relevant issues that our Earth faces, tastefully presenting global issues that we can work together to solve in small (or big!) ways.

Some great places for kid-friendly current events are here and here. The National Education Association also has awesome lesson plans and activities that address current issues.

Give students a challenge!

Present an issue that Earthlings face today (one your students can understand and think critically about). Challenge students to apply the 4 Cs to come up with a creative solution—let them run with it! For Kodable’s Earth Day coding challenge, get our lesson plans and activities!

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Lower Elementary Earth Day lesson (k-2)3
Upper Elementary Earth Day lesson (3-5)

Encourage teamwork and unity.

Caring for our planet is a responsibility we all share equally; one that holds us together despite our differences. As we look to better our planet, there is nothing more important than each of us sharing our talents and ideas in a productive way. Imagine what we can do by sharing, listening, and learning from each other? Try some of these awesome Scholastic team builders to promote working together on Earth Day and every day. “Recycled Goods” is great for PBL on Earth Day!

 

Whatever you decide to do on Friday, Aprill 22nd  to celebrate our planet with your students, we THANK YOU for equipping the future with humans who will have the skills needed to continue to innovate, invent, and take us for many more wild trips around the sun.
We want to hear and share about your Earth Day festivities! Send pictures, artwork, and activity ideas to 
brie@kodable.com.

 

 

 

 

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!

New and Improved Tools for Teaching Coding

Last week your students got an upgrade to Kodable with the release of Bug World on iOS, but now it’s your turn! We’re always listening to your feedback and as a result has made some changes to your teacher dashboard that we think you’ll LOVE!

When you’re getting started teaching computer science, getting to your first class is crucial. So many teachers feel overwhelmed by all the choices, tools, and new content that they never make it to this point. However, if you make it to your first class, you’re 60% more likely to continue with computer science in your classroom. It is our priority to help teachers reach this point. Over the years, you may have received an email or call from a member of the Kodable team offering support to help you get to this point or asking questions about what stopped you.

This method has helped hundreds of teachers get started, and we look forward to many more of these conversations. Kodable has grown to be in 1 in 4 elementary schools and there are just too many teachers to reach everyone individually. We wanted to find a way to replicate this process for others who we weren’t able to reach.

 

Introducing your new Kodable Concierge

This new to do list on your teacher dashboard will point you in the right direction to find what’s next for you and your students. It’s like having a member of the Kodable team right there to guide you through every step of your coding journey.

 

Walk through each step toward teaching your first class.

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Your to-do list takes you to the current lesson materials. 

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When you complete lesson plans, your to-do list will tell you which one is up next.  

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Online lesson plans for easier planning

Before the to-do list, many, many teachers had no idea that we offered so many great resources, lesson plans, and activities in our curriculum. Now, each part of the curriculum is easier than ever to access. Every lesson plan is accessible in a digital format straight from your teacher dashboard!

View each concept

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Mark lessons complete, tracking what’s next

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This is the first step in our plan to make them all available inside the Kodable app. Having resources all in one place makes planning for your first (of many!) programming lesson.

Quickly evaluate what your students are learning

After teaching your first lesson in computer science there is usually a rush of emotions! The one we hear the most is excitement. However, often administrators and teachers are concerned about how to measure student outcomes. To accompany the qualitative evaluation built into each of our lesson plans, teachers have always valued our quantitative data.  Now you have easier access to all your student’s progress on your teacher dashboard.

View each of your classes

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View weekly snapshots of your students’ progress

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Our goal has always been to make teaching computer science as effortless and fun as possible for both students and educators. Therefore, we’re always listening to what they have to say about how we can improve. Enjoy the new tools made especially for you, and let us know what you think! We’re here to help and listen. Thank you for all that you do.