Coordinator of Media and Instructional Technology
Baltimore City Schools
How did you get involved in CS education?
I discovered computer science resources for k12 while I was looking to update information technology experiences beyond keyboarding skills for our city schools. I attended a Code.org CS Fundamentals workshop and became a believer that coding is a foundational skill. I think that it's especially important to expose students in underserved and under-represented groups who have little or no opportunities for exposure outside of school. Students starting high school were unprepared to participate fully in CS classes. But there were few or no teachers in K8 with any CS experience who could provide the foundation that students needed.
Describe a challenge you’ve faced along the way.
We had to start introducing CS by building awareness and revising old courses like keyboarding to include CS content.
For me, the challenge was really looking for the right curriculum. When we first moved in this direction, we were looking for something that was based on what were then new CS standards. Once we started looking into it and talked to our CTE folks, what we heard from them was that our students going into 9th grade computer science were unprepared. They didn’t have any background skills or foundational knowledge, so it was like starting from scratch which I thought was unfair to them. We don’t want our kids to struggle because we haven’t offered them the right opportunities. So we decided that we were going to look into CS as a curriculum option more seriously, and we knew we didn’t have funding to purchase a program for all schools, so we chose the Code.org curriculum partly because we knew it was well-written, but also because you don’t have to be a CS teacher in order to teach it- which most of our K-8 teachers are not. Teachers just need a willingness to participate in some introductory PD and learn along with the students. If I was able go in as a former first, second, and third grade teacher and teach that curriculum with no background in computer science, then I knew it was the right thing for our teachers, because we simply didn’t have teachers with that skill set in K-8. So, we worked really hard with our high school team to come up with a pathway to get our students ready for that high school course, and that included starting CS in kindergarten. So that’s how we got involved, how I got involved, and why we’re using what we’re using.
What’s going well for you?
One of the things that we’ve had to do is build awareness around CS and around the fact that we have a curriculum. We had to go into our student information system and take out all the old tech courses and anything that was labeled keyboarding and replace it with new courses with new course codes in alignment with MSDE requirements. That was a big challenge; we had so many phone calls from principals looking for the keyboarding section or the instructional tech section in the first year we did that. It’s been such a weird transition trying to get from these older skills to having our kids doing actual computer science, and to get our schools to understand that it’s real and important. But what it’s given us the opportunity to really raise awareness is by hosting events throughout the districts; we’ve done the hour of code, we just had a big districtwide family code night with several hundred people who participated!
And then having the ESSA computational thinking requirement for middle schools there is a whole different level of awareness around computer science. It has started conversations with principals about what is this, why are we doing it, why is it important, and then we’d get principals that would call and want help with scheduling and could then talk them through “Well yes, you COULD just teach this for eighth grade, but why aren't you teaching it down in kindergarten? How do you schedule that?” so we have had a lot more understanding that this is real and that the distinct is committed to it, better buy-in from principals.
We’re also working on guidance and support resources for teachers that are scheduled to teach CS but haven’t been through PD. We’re going to try to do a Coding Friday type of activity guide that pulls some items from the Code.org curriculum. It’s not going to meet our ESSA requirements or any kind of scheduling requirements, but it will at least start a conversation around computer science and give kids some foundational knowledge around coding. It’s not perfect by any stretch, we have a long way to go, but I think we’re getting better.
We also have leadership that supports the implementation of computer science down to kindergarten and who participate in events. That support and involvement help us to raise awareness for our school leaders. They support the fact that computer science is a foundational literacy; it’s not a traditional literacy, but it is a literacy that kids need to have to be able to have to interact with the world they live in. If you don’t know there’s a chip in your refrigerator when your fridge dies, you don’t know who to call when it breaks; if you don’t know at least a little bit, you have no way to gauge what information is credible or trustworthy. We just want kids to know a little bit! I mean, I want them to know a lot, but at this point we just want to give them that foundation.