If you participated in December’s Hour of Code, you may have come to realize the importance of Computer Science to students. Greg Beutler is the Director of Techscool.org, a school devoted to teaching kids this fundamental skill through the lens of robotics, coding, competitions, and more. The school’s tagline is Learn to code; Code to learn. Pretty pithy.
Here’s Greg’s informed perspective on this question:
Beyond job opportunities, why should all K-12 students learn about computer science?
Computer Science is an important subject for all students because it teaches you how to think. The act of writing a computer program requires you to think about how to create sequences which are step by step procedures on how to solve a given problem. CS also teaches the student, what sequences are run, what sequences should run if that sequence fails. CS teaches the student how to present that failure or success of that operation to the user via a GUI, and how the GUI should look and what the next outcome should be of the interactions between the user, the software and the computing device. Computer Science is an integrative subject, not siloed like other subjects taught at school.
Starting children early is best. To illustrate this I’ll use my favorite analogy, which is the baseball analogy. Both the little leaguer and a major leaguer perform the same operations, they catch a ball, throw a ball and hit a ball. But the major leaguer is much more talented and skilled. They have done all of those actions thousands of times in practice and games. They have honed their skill to a very great extent with competition and practice. They have a keen understanding of the game, the rules, and the winning strategies. They know where to hit the ball against a particular team in a particular situation. They know where to throw the ball in a particular situation. They can anticipate the actions of their teammates and opponents and react accordingly. Starting children early
gives them a wide arena of problems and problem-solving skills. The same applies to computer science. At a young age we can solve simple problems such as sorting different colored beads into different cups, then when we are older we can solve more complex problems such as writing a program using sorting algorithms for all sorts of items; including colored beads., which is called abstraction.
Here are the top five skills that most successful computer science students possess.
Sheila Slawek teaches digital literacy & computer science. I’ve known Sheila a long time and am profoundly impressed by how she passionately and energetically blends technology authentically into the learning lives of her students. When she showed me the websites her 8th grade students put together–by themselves–I begged her to share with my AATT audience how this came about. When you read this, I think you’ll find her can-do attitude and never-quit approach infectious. Here’s her story:
I’m an inner city, level 4 middle school teacher that provides free daily breakfasts and lunches to a diverse student population. Every semester I receive new students for each grade level and I always wonder, what will we accomplish? I noticed that my eighth-grade class contained 16 students vs. the usual 24 students. The 8th grade just received their own profiled laptop since the school was deploying a blended learning/personalized learning initiative and the 1:1 student laptop was a key project. Of course, being the tech coordinator for this initiative, I was politely asked by a random number of teachers as they passed me in the hall, “so now that the students have laptops, how are they going to learn what they need to be able to use them in my class?” I quickly assessed that the teachers didn’t realize that they will provide instructions regarding the technology their students will use. I was perplexed since I thought to myself, the district has been deploying laptops to schools for 10 years! This initiative was just the next step of student ownership. Ownership of not only the assigned laptops, but ownership of their learning! With all of this going through my mind, I only had time to giggle as we passed each other while walking out students to their destination.
There’s a lot of chatter about PBIS (Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports) on educator forums I participate in. I don’t have direct experience with it so I jumped at the chance to share Middle School teacher Karessa Parish’s experiences. In this article, she explains what PBIS is, lessons learned rolling it out, and a tool called Hero that helped make it happen in her school:
Studies show that students need a ratio of about five positive interactions to every negative. Up until a year and a half ago, our campus had this ratio all wrong. It seemed like we were giving five negatives for every positive. Our teachers were spending more time on a small percentage of the students who were having trouble or who were making trouble. We were spending 80 percent of our time focusing on 20 percent of our students, who were the ones with behavior issues. But that means 80 percent of our students were excellent and weren’t getting the recognition that they deserve. The result was that the vast majority of our students — students who were doing the right thing — were getting little positive attention from our faculty. We decided to refocus our attention to be intentional in recognizing positive everyday occurrences that had been overlooked for too long and we picked Hero to help us do this.
We wanted to flip the culture at our school. We had two objectives when we created our Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports (PBIS) program and started using Hero:
- Motivate the students who weren’t following expectations
- Celebrate the kids who were doing what they were supposed to be doing
Hero helps teachers and administrators monitor all forms of student behavior, both good and bad. Using any web browser or an Android or iOS device, teachers and administrators can capture student behavior where and when it happens, keep accurate attendance records, and assign warnings and consequences (or rewards for positive behavior) automatically. We have customized the software with specific behaviors, incentives, and interventions. Our students can track how many points they have accumulated through the Hero app, and they can redeem their points in the school store. We have a variety of incentives ranging from mystery brown bags with three or four trinkets in them to earbuds and t-shirts. We also host parties like student vs. teacher basketball games, Powder Puff games and time on the athletic field with snow cones. These parties are hosted every six weeks that students can use their Hero points to attend.
In 2015, Idaho adopted an open-enrollment policy allowing families to send students to their school of choice. Despite being a Title I District, Coeur d’Alene established itself as one of the most outstanding districts in the state. School leaders credit a multi-faceted senior writing project, new curricula, and instructional technology for bringing new students to their doors.
This is Coeur d’Alene’s story–how they recognized a need to improve student writing skills and effectively addressed it:
Tucked just north of the Spokane River, along the western side of the panhandle, lies Coeur d’Alene, Idaho. Nine out of 17 schools in the Coeur d’Alene School District (CdA) receive Title I Funding, and according to the 2016 National Education Association survey, Idaho ranks last in per-pupil spending and 47th in the nation for average teacher salary.
In 2015, Idaho passed a state-wide open enrollment law that allows parents to send children to their school of choice. This was good for families, but given the many challenges Coeur d’Alene faced daily, the policy had the potential to greatly affect matriculation throughout the district. CdA Administrators, however, felt that open enrollment could be an important driver of change while also giving parents the ability to choose the best school for their needs.
“We’re not utopia, we have a lot of challenges,”
explained Mike Nelson, the Director of Curricula and Assessments in the Coeur d’Alene Public School District, “but at the same time, we knew a few key changes would be of benefit to all.”
A few months ago, Jane Sandwood sent me a nice note. She’s a a freelance writer, editor and former tutor, homeschooler, and mother of two teenage daughters. She’d read my articles about preparing for SAT/ACTs and had a story of her own detailing how she helped her children prepare for their ACT. I think you’ll enjoy her experiences!
As spring approaches, my eldest daughter Katherine, now in her junior year, is bracing herself for the upcoming ACT exams, while my youngest, Elizabeth, a sophomore, is getting ready for next year. I am a former tutor and for almost 10 years, I helped students prepare for both SATs and ACTs, relying heavily on tech tools and games to keep them motivated. Somehow, even students who needed the most help weren’t quite as challenging as my own daughters, and the lines between tutor and mom were often blurred, as is to be expected.
Different Learning Styles
Katherine and Elizabeth are just about as different as two people can be when it comes to their attitudes about school and their interests. Katherine, who wishes to be an actor, always took to her studies almost instinctively, since she was a child. She took great pride in handing in her homework neatly, took great pains to finish all her tasks, and was more of a rote learner than Elizabeth, who is more into writing, and who always took a more critical, analytical approach to her studies.
Elizabeth is naturally bright and quick, and has an enviable memory. She has always loved reading and has amassed quite a collection on her Kindle, yet is reticent to complete homework and has always had a strong aversion to maths. Because things tend to come easier to her, she is easily bored and far less disciplined than Kathy when it comes to homework and creating a study strategy. She also struggles with time management, often getting lost in a book or musical album and arriving to school without having completed home tasks.
I’m a fan of Turnitin’s Revision Assistant and have reviewed it in the past. Most schools use it to help students write and revise their essays with automated feedback from the program. Revision Assistant’s feedback is specific and student-driven — given whenever a student calls for a signal check. Comments are written by actual teachers and the RA’s algorithms recognize patterns and guide students as they rewrite their essays.
Newport-Mesa Unified School District, a large district in Southern California, took a slightly different approach: They applied Revision Assistant’s signal check measures to train teachers how to grade essays more consistently across the district’s grading rubric. This clever application of RA made them a finalist in the IMS Global Learning Consortium Learning Impact Awards for creative applications of education technology.
Here’s what they did: A rubric is a matrix that specifically describes the characteristics an essay must have in order to earn a particular numeric score. Usually, it includes about four levels of proficiency and five or six categories. While it may be challenging for teachers to be consistent in grading, an algorithm is 100 percent consistent in scoring because algorithms do not vary from their programming. Newport-Mesa used this consistency to train teachers to better apply the district rubric to writing assignments.[gallery ids="55971,55970,55969"]
The district is still in the early stages of training and implementation but other districts may want to learn from their use of data-based instruction. They will present their proposal on May 16 at the Learning Impact Summit.
Revision Assistant, part of the Turnitin family, is a comprehensive virtual writing assistant for students that allows them to digitally edit and rewrite documents for any class. Last year, Sammy Spencer, a High School English teacher in Southern California, ran a pilot program using Revision Assistant in her school. Here’s her story:
Last Fall, my El Camino Real High School colleagues and I set out to change the way we teach writing. We wanted to redefine effective standards-based instruction and assessment. By the time we were finished with a pilot test, we discovered that a technology tool helped us and our students in some unexpected ways. It changed our day-to-day writing instruction practices, gave students more power over their own learning, and happily, made writing exercises more real and applicable for other departments like social studies.
In 2016-17, I was the new English department chair at ECRCHS, which is a large public charter school in Los Angeles. We are fortunate in that we have a lot of academic freedom, but since this is an accreditation year, we have to be sure we have data to prove we are meeting our learning objectives.
This year, I needed to help our English department implement shifts in writing methods directed by the Common Core State Standards (CCSS). We also needed new pedagogical approaches that would yield data to measure progress. Our literacy coach and English teacher, Heidi Crocker, found a product from Turnitin – Revision Assistant – that used a powerful technology to assess writing and would turn the data it uncovered into feedback that students could apply to their essays immediately. We decided to give it a try.
We took a measured approach and piloted Revision Assistant in August 2016 with a small group of English and History teachers. At around the same time, our administration department asked us to align department objectives so that writing instruction reflected CCSS and the Smarter Balanced-style prompts. We needed benchmark assessments that would not only measure student achievement, but also able to drive instruction.