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?
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.
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.
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!