How to Build a Computer Science Curriculum With Existing Staff — THE Journal

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How to Create a Computer Science Curriculum With Existing Staff

A director of the Careers and STEM Academy explains how her district responded to a state mandate by collaborating with teachers and students

Students will need IT and STEM skills throughout their education and career, regardless of the future career field they choose. With that in mind, the state of Indiana required schools to offer computer science to all K-12 students starting last year.

To Barr-Reeve Community Schools, we didn’t have the resources to create a computer science curriculum from scratch. Nevertheless, we have created a program that not only meets the requirements of the mandate, but also inspires teachers and students to learn. We learned a number of lessons along the way, but the biggest lesson was this: you can transform your curriculum and provide students with the computer skills they need, often with the teachers and tools you already have. in class.

Where to start when starting a new computer science program

When our school district began considering starting our computer science curriculum, the question quickly became, “Where to start?” Some districts embarking on a new program start in elementary school and expand from there; others focus first on teaching high school students the job skills they need before graduation.

With funding from a digital learning grant through the Indiana Department of Education a few years ago, we were able to introduce computing to all grades and schools at the same time. If you choose to follow our path, it doesn’t mean you have to start a full IT program from day one. A strategic first step is to get the teachers and administrators of each school on board by meeting with them where they are.

Start by meeting the teachers where they are

When we were ready to implement our curriculum district-wide, we took stock of available and interested teachers. For example, we had a teacher who had previously taught computer science using materials from Code.org, but needed a more structured sequential curriculum. We also had teachers who were interested in computing but hadn’t taught it or gone to school for it.

To provide all of our teachers with the much-needed preparation and support they need, we have chosen Codelicious, a K-12 computer science program which offers teachers step-by-step instructions. Codelicious was also willing to adjust the beginning of the program into smaller steps that helped teachers learn and reinforce fundamental concepts that would be most important to students. Since teachers could see exactly what they needed to do and exactly how they needed to teach, they could present this information to students more easily.

Break away from the traditional conference format

Because we didn’t expect our teachers to be computer experts, we adopted a pedagogical model that went beyond the ‘wise on stage’. This collaborative approach made the most of the fact that students are often more tech-savvy than educators, especially at the middle and high school levels.

Instead of the teacher standing at the front of the room and giving a lesson, our teachers serve as guides who ask the right questions and learn alongside their students. For example, when we started the computer science program, a student was creating a website, but there was a problem with the code. The professor took this problem home and worked on it all weekend. On Monday, he was completely frustrated and overwhelmed because he couldn’t find the problem.

We sat down with the Codelicious team, and the advice for this teacher was simple: it’s not all up to you. Instead of spending all your time with this problem, throw the code on the board and ask your students, “Who can help debug this?” What are we missing? »

The other key question we encourage teachers to ask in situations like this is, “What is your end goal here?” Does the site work perfectly or are the students learning along the way? Our Computer Science curriculum is about teaching kids to think, learn and be resourceful, not necessarily just providing them with static information. This approach applies to almost anything kids might want to do – not just in STEM-related fields, but in any career they might choose to pursue outside of it.

Creating a learning path

Bringing computing into the classroom is not about placing students in a single computing class and expecting them to learn everything they might need to know about STEM. Rather, it is about providing them with the opportunity to embark on a learning journey.

It’s the Google generation. They have access to all the information they might need right at their fingertips. They take their devices with them and know how to do that research, but they need to know how to use that information once they have it – and they need to know how to use that knowledge and apply it to new and different situations. We can replicate this in the classroom by showing how computing applies to all of their subjects. In our district, computer science doesn’t just come as an elective or in a science class. It is also part of learning social studies, English and math.

With this philosophy in place, our teachers were able to focus on transforming computing into something students look forward to. One of our science teachers says that introducing computers to his classes has brought a lot of fun to his class. The students got used to computers at the elementary level. They’re comfortable and used to it, and if he wants to meet students where they are, he needs to provide them with more computer lessons. With support, he is now able to provide students with lessons they are passionate about.

Like Barr-Reeve, your school or district may already have the resources you need to introduce a comprehensive computer science curriculum. By meeting teachers where they are and teaching students how to problem solve, not just how to absorb and regurgitate information, you can create a more effective learning environment that better prepares students for their future careers.

About the Author


Andrea Huff is the career and STEM Academy director for Barr-Reeve Community Schools in Montgomery, Indiana, which has just under 1,000 students enrolled. Andrea can be reached at [email protected]