February 27, 2018

Computer science: How To Teach It In Your Primary Classroom

This is the third installment of a three-part guest post series from Technology Integrationist Angie Kalthoff analyzing computer science in the K-12 education system. Read part one, Are We Too Late For Computer Science Education?, and part two, How To Teach Computer Science If You’re Not A Computer Scientist.

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In 2017, I received a grant that supported our district's efforts to implement computational thinking in the K-5 classroom. In order to achieve a successful implementation, we needed to consider how our approach to computational thinking would complement:

Our team, consisting of teachers, media specialists and various other education professionals, created a scope and sequence for each grade level that incorporated both plugged and unplugged activities.

In this post, I will share with you lessons to take back to your classroom that we have found useful. To learn more about the grant, you can reach out to me on Twitter @mrskalthoff.

State standards and district curriculum
As a reference point, I’ve included state standards that we considered when developing our computational thinking lessons.

English language arts standards state that students should be able to:

  • Participate in collaborative conversations
  • Create individual or shared multimedia work for a specific purpose
  • Add drawings or other visual displays to descriptions to clarify ideas, thoughts and feelings
Mathematics standards state that students should be able to:
  • Solve and represent real-world and mathematical addition and subtraction problems
  • Understand how to interpret number sentences
  • Understand the relationship between the size of a unit of measurement and the number of units needed to measure
Computer Science Framework
We focused on the following concepts and subconcepts of the Computer Science Framework. Lessons are provided for each.

When students understand the relationship between algorithms and programs, they can take a list of instructions and encode it into a language. By the end of 2nd grade, the computer science framework states students should know that people follow and create processes as part of daily life. Many of these processes can be expressed as algorithms that computers can follow. Impacts of computing
Computing technology has positively and negatively changed the way people live and work. Computing devices can be used for entertainment and as productivity tools, and they can affect relationships and lifestyles. Debugging
Computing systems might not work as expected because of hardware or software problems. Clearly describing a problem is the first step toward finding a solution. Devices
People use computing devices to perform a variety of tasks accurately and quickly. Computing devices interpret and follow the instructions they are given literally.

Additional lessons can be found at https://hourofcode.com/us/learn.

I would like to thank the wonderful group of classroom teachers, media specialists and various other education professionals that I was able to collaborate with on lesson creation and implementation.

Brenda Thielen, Sally Davidson, Lindsey Nagorski, Jodi Heinen, Cathy Bautch, Amy Jensen, Julie Nefs, Brandi Richards, Kelli Ritter, Ted Hanson, Pam Holubetz, Eric Maas

Media Specialists
Jenny McNew, Linda Hollenkamp, Jennifer Dahlstrom-Lage, Cole Bacon, Sara Martini, Jessica Moore, Holly Nelson, Paul Olsen

Amanda Anderson, Jason Menth, Jodie Kragness

University Partner
Diana Fenton

January 16, 2018

How to Teach Computer Science if You're Not a Computer Scientist

This is the second installment of a three-part guest post series from Technology Integrationist Angie Kalthoff analyzing computer science in the K-12 education system. Read part one: Are We Too Late For Computer Science Education?

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Stop me if you’ve heard this one before. 

“I can’t teach computer science because I’m not a computer scientist.”

That statement may seem valid, but it's inconsistent with our views on other subjects. 

Do you have to be a mathematician to teach math?

Or a published writer to teach someone how to write a sentence?

Or a historian to teach students about the Civil War?

Any teacher can incorporate computer science into curriculum. I’m going to tell you how.

Computational thinking

People always talk about how kids should learn how to code. Yes, but it’s more important to introduce computational thinking to students at an early age. Computational thinking is not coding or computer science. It’s important to know the difference.

In the simplest terms, computational thinking is taking big problems, breaking them down into smaller problems and solving them.

This excerpt from Digital Promise’s “Computational Thinking for a Computational World”  explains the differences.

“Coding is the practice of developing a set of instructions that a computer can understand and execute.

Computer science is the study of computers and algorithmic processes, including their principles, their hardware and software designs, their applications and their impact on society.

Computational thinking is ‘a way of solving problems, designing systems, and understanding human behavior that draws on concepts fundamental to computer science.’”

Computational thinking in the classroom

Look at the standards we are already teaching, then design learning experiences that tie in computational thinking concepts and approaches.

Don’t build lessons around a cool coding platform or fun robots. Build lessons around the ideas, and use the tools for hands-on investigative exploration.

You can categorize lessons in two ways:

  • Plugged
  • Unplugged

Plugged lessons
Plugged lessons require student access to a device like a laptop, Chromebook, iPad, tablet, etc. Many plugged lessons involve block-based coding platforms to help students learn computer science concepts. Code.org, Kodable, Scratch JR and Scratch are a few of my favorites.

These resources allow students to collaborate on pair programing lessons. Pair programing in an app like Scratch JR teaches valuable computational thinking skills as students create programs for characters to move across the screen. Students learn to spot patterns and remove unneeded information (abstraction) as they evaluate the efficiency of their programs and fix mistakes (debugging) that occur.

Unplugged lessons
Unplugged lessons do not require students to access devices. Sites like CS Unplugged, Kodable’s lesson library and the unplugged lessons in Code.org’s CS Fundamentals help make real life connections around new concepts.

Computational thinking can be a foundational element of unplugged lessons.

For example, planting a seed or making paper airplanes teaches students about “real-life” algorithms. Have students learn programing by turning their friends into robots or teaching a robotic turtle how to access a jewel.

Challenge your students
Here’s a simple unplugged lesson that you can challenge your students to solve with computational thinking.

Suppose you have a friend with dirty hands. To help your friend, you need to:

  1. Decompose the problem (dirty hands = problem)
  2. Break down the steps required to successfully wash their hands by creating an algorithm for them to follow.

If the friend had never washed his or her hands before, you couldn’t simply say “wash your hands.” You would need to provide step-by-step instructions.

This lesson and others like it require children to think about the way they think. It’s an easy way to introduce the concept of computational thinking.

Stay tuned... 
In the third and final post in this series, I will dig deeper into lessons, share plans and provide valuable advice I've learned from my experiences working with teachers in the classroom. 

December 20, 2017

#SquirrelsChat Recap: Computer Science + Coding in the Classroom

Students need certain skills to survive and thrive in our digital world.

Problem solving. Critical thinking. Designing. Creating. 

These are the skills that worksheets and busy work simply cannot provide.

But coding can.

The December #SquirrelsChat took a dive into the topic of coding as innovative educators shared strategy, real-world examples, advice, resources and more for teaching computer science. This chat focused on the first three practices of the K-12 Computer Science Framework.

Building an inclusive computing culture

Considering the needs of all students is essential to producing an inclusive computing culture. Start by involving all students and make coding part of everything they do. Build it into the curriculum, form computer science teams, create after-school clubs, etc. This allows all students to experience coding, incorporate it into what interests them and increase their enthusiasm about the topic.

Collaboration in the classroom

Effective collaboration can lead to better computing outcomes in the classroom. Give students opportunities to work together, talk, build and create. Encourage leadership and team building by allowing students that have more experience to help and teach others.

Applying computational skills

Being able to recognize opportunities to apply computational thinking is a skill that is central to coding. Let’s take a look at a few real life applications from educators using this approach in the classroom.

Hour of Code

This year, 153,941 events registered for the Hour of Code. This global movement is a way of bringing awareness to coding and an introduction to computer science. Anyone can participate in and organize an Hour of Code event. Here are some first-hand experiences.

Coding and computer science resources

There are many computer science resources, programs and applications that help educators jump into coding – Kodable, Minecraft and Code.org to name a few. Take some time to research the tools that make it easy to introduce concepts to students. Remember, start small!

Related reading: Are We Too Late for Computer Science?

How to bring computer science into the classroom

Implementing computer science into the classroom is daunting. Many educators don’t know where to start. A good place to begin is to connect with others, do research, don’t be afraid to ask students for help and jump in. Coding is fun, it’s everywhere and anyone can do it!

Want more great insight into the world of education?

Join #SquirrelsChat every first and third Thursday of the month starting in January 2018. You can stay up-to-date on topics, moderators and any time/date changes by following us on Twitter (@Squirrels). 

Coming up on January 4: Tasks Before Apps with host Monica Burns.

December 8, 2017

Are we too late for computer science education?

This is the first of a three-part guest post series from Angie Kalthoff, Technology Integrationist at a Minnesota public school district. In this series, Angie analyzes where the K12 education system stands with computer science education. 

Students often get their first dose of computer science education in high school. 

For many, that’s too late.

Studies show that if students are not exposed to computer science by fourth grade, stereotypes about people who are not good at science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) begin to form. These social stereotypes deter girls and students of color in particular from entering the computer science field.

This is a problem.

Computer science introduces critical literacies, such as coding, and skills that are fundamental to the development of college- and career-ready students in the 21st century.

How do we fix this?

We can provide earlier access and opportunities while highlighting self-efficacy in computer science. Students should begin learning computer science as early as kindergarten. That will help build a diverse computing landscape.

Introducing computer science in kindergarten will help prevent education stereotypes from forming during the time when students are curious, learning about the world and developing their interests.

Why not bring more technology experiences into our primary classrooms?

Based on a study of classroom teachers’ experiences, the primary motivation for teachers to use technology is the belief that technology will make them better educators and positively impact student learning. 

While most teachers believe that technology benefits students, few of them successfully integrate technology into their curriculum in a meaningful way. My colleague and friend, Diana Fenton, is working to change this by introducing her preservice teachers to technology integration best practices and computer science education early in their college experience.

Teachers who are not able to take Diana’s class can use the following resources for professional development opportunities:

Teachers who are currently in a classroom setting can follow the TPACK model for guidance on technology integration. By working together, we combine our skillset in the following areas: Technology, Pedagogy and Content Knowledge, which encompass TPACK. My district encourages this type of co-teaching.

Challenge yourself
I didn’t think that I could introduce computer science at the beginning of the school year when I was a kindergarten English language teacher. That’s an important time for developing relationships and establishing routines.

Then I challenged myself to think of how one of those routines could incorporate a computer science station in small group rotations. I saw the progress we made with computer science integration and decided to introduce it even earlier the following year to see what we could do with a whole school year.

Coming Up...
Stay tuned! In the second installment of this three-part series, I share how computer science lessons are integrated into our classrooms and how they connect with state standards, the ISTE Standards for Students and the CS Framework. 

To dive deeper into the research, visit the following resources:

Google. (2014). Women who choose computer science—what really matters: The critical role of exposure and encouragement.

Mountain View, CA: Author. Retrieved from https://docs.google.com/file/d/0B-E2rcvhnlQ_a1Q4VUxWQ2dtTHM/edit

Huebner, G. (2017, April 20). Coding for Kids | 5 Reasons to Teach Kids to Code. Retrieved November 07, 2017, from http://blog.kodable.com/2014/07/07/5-reasons-to-teach-kids-to-code-2/

Ottenbreit-Leftwich, A. T., Glazewski, K. D., Newby, T. J., & Ertmer, P. A. (2010). Teacher value beliefs associated with using technology: Addressing professional and student needs. Computers & Education, 55(3), 1321-1335.

Young programmers -- think playgrounds, not playpens | Marina Bers | TEDxJackson [Advertisement]. (2015, January 20). Retrieved October 10, 2017, from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jOQ-9S3lOnM


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