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Computational Learning/ Thinking (CL/T) and Computer Science tools and resources used in Middle Schools in Maryland

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In Maryland Middle Schools, CL/T is included in courses for grades 6-8 and in many different contexts. It is often included in computer science or technology courses. School systems are also integrating CL/T into different disciplines among them 8th grade science.  One system has created Scratch projects that integrate with a quarter long unit, and one system uses a Discovery Education Ignite my Future unit and mBots in combination with their science curriculum. Another system has integrated CT/L in a Business course and another in Media Arts. There are courses in development integrating CL/T in Fine Arts and almost certainly in other disciplines as well. Regardless of how or where it is taught, it is important to have students be aware of the processes that are involved in CT/L and how to apply them to a variety of situations.

ESSA requirements in Maryland include offering a CT/L course to every middle school student. 


Computer Programming Science Discoveries is an introductory course for 6 - 10th grade students that can be flexibly taught as a single semester, two semesters over multiple years, or as a full year course. The course takes a wide lens on computer science by covering topics such as problem solving, programming, physical computing, user-centered design, and data, while inspiring students as they build their own websites, apps, games, and physical computing devices. CSFundamentals Express is a lightweight option that can be integrated as a unit in an existing technology or programming class, or as an after-school program, This course covers the core concepts at an accelerated pace. FREE of charge

Amazon Future Engineers-- Through projectSTEM a Scratch programming course is offered for 6th grade, an Artificial Intelligence Course for 7th grade, and a multidisciplinary course for 8th grade. Free for MD middle schools.

CS0 & CS1-- from Carnegie Mellon University and also supported by Amazon Future Engineers. CS0 is a lighter version of their CS1 curriculum, some might call it a splash into the fundamentals of programming. It is designed to engage and excite future CS1 students. This curriculum is taught using text-based coding in Python. CS0 also revolves around graphics-based problem solving and has similar visually-engaging notes, checkpoints, exercises, and projects for students to complete. (Don't know if anyone is using this yet). FREE of charge. 

Your Voice is Power-- a unit supported by Amazon Future Engineers that teaches block or Python coding with creative music creation. FREE

CSFirst-- was built by educators who wanted a tool that allowed every teacher to teach computer science, even if they weren't tech experts. So they developed a curriculum that made it easy to teach and integrated into a wide range of classrooms. CSFirst uses a version of Scratch in a closed environment and can be used by those who have never programmed as well as those with some expertise. FREE of charge

Scratch Encore--has an emphasis on equity and inclusion for all underrepresented populations. Their philosophy is to accomplish this through a blend of structure and variation to balance concrete goals with encouraging creativity. The curriculum includes choice for students and instructors, structured tasks with automatic scoring and open-ended challenges. Teachers have to create a free account to access materials as they are part of an ongoing research project. FREE of charge

BlocksCAD -is the graphical, engaging, and effective way to teach coding, where the outcome is improved math & computer science skills. BlocksCAD, is a cloud-based 3D modeling tool that encourages users to learn math, computational thinking and coding concepts through visualization and designing models to be 3D printed. (Don't know if anyone is using this yet) SUBSCRIPTION charge.



Learning Blade--Learning Blade is a complete toolbox of online lessons, projects and activities designed to grab your students’ attention while introducing them to the careers, tools and technologies found throughout STEM fields. .Much more than just another tool, Learning Blade is different. This is a high quality supplemental curriculum that is focused on offering your students real world learning experiences in STEM education. It does this by providing student-ready, interactive missions that show STEM careers in the context of solving people and community-centered problems. This process is proven effective in building a student’s interest in STEM, developing awareness of STEM career opportunities, and reinforcing academic standards and skills. SUBSCRIPTION charge

Hacking STEM from Microsoft--Build affordable inquiry and project-based activities to visualize data across science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) curriculum. Middle school standards-based lesson plans written by teachers for teachers. Microsoft Hacking STEM bridges the gap between hands-on learning and digital technology with full and ready-to-teach lesson plans. Highlighting the application of 21st century skills such as electrical engineering, software engineering, mechanical engineering, and data science in classrooms, Hacking STEM lessons help students build the ingenuity they need to become leaders in today's workforce. Lessons are FREE, equipment often required.

Discovery Education-- Ignite my Future in School is a comprehensive set of resources seamlessly integrating the principles of computational thinking across the curriculum and at home to give students the 21st century skills they need for future success.FREE of charge.It provides middle school educators with standards-aligned, transdisciplinary resources designed to effectively engage classrooms with the foundations of computational thinking across core subject areas. Coding-With Discovery Education Coding, students will gain a secure understanding of coding concepts, like algorithms, sequences and variables, and develop critical computational thinking skills through decomposition, logical reasoning, and imaginative problem-solving. And, best of all, students and teachers alike will be able to demonstrate their creativity and build confidence by creating their very own apps and sharing them with their classmates and colleagues.SUBCRIPTION charge.  STEM Connect--Our interdisciplinary K-8 resource blends dynamic digital content with ready-to-use lessons and hands-on activities to enhance core curriculum and cultivate design thinking to prepare students for the future. Built around the 4Cs framework and the UN Sustainable Development Goals, STEM Connect purposefully integrates across disciplines and provides all the necessary resources for teachers to introduce students to STEM. SUBCRIPTION charge.

Project Lead the Way--Gateway to Technology  During the Middle School years, PLTW Gateway’s 10 units empower students to lead their own discovery. The hands-on program boosts classroom engagement and excitement, drives collaboration, and inspires “aha! moments” and deep comprehension. And as students engage in PLTW’s activities in computer science, engineering, and biomedical science, they see a range of paths and possibilities they can look forward to in high school and beyond. SUBSCRIPTION charge. 


Virtual Robots/Virtual Environments

CoderZ is an innovative, friendly and engaging online learning tool. It provides students between 6th and 12th grade with a strong foundation to real world technologies with high demand. Being an online platform allows CoderZ to be a highly affordable solution for schools in the search to make robotics and programming education accessible to any student. The ultimate platform for learning coding. Ideal for both students and teachers. Students have the opportunity to learn online with engaging, gamified solutions, challenges and competitions. Working at their own pace, students can easily program real and virtual robots from anywhere in the world. CoderZ enables them to acquire computational thinking, problem solving skills and learn coding as a life skill. CoderZ is designed for students with different background levels of robotics: From Blockly to Java. SUBSCRIPTION charge.

VEXcode VR--   lets you code a virtual robot using a block based coding environment powered by Scratch Blocks. VEXcode VR is based on VEXcode, the same programming environment used for VEX 123, GO, IQ and V5 robots. We all know that robots make Computer Science (CS) come to life with real world applications. Now STEM learning can continue while at home for students, teachers and mentors with no access to their VEX robots. FREE of charge.

Minecraft: Education Edition is a game-based learning platform that offers educators a transformative way to engage students using Minecraft, and ignite their passion for learning! It offers special features for educators such as easy tutorials, classroom management tools, secure sign-in, classroom collaboration and tons of sample lessons, plus a global network of mentors and tech support. Educators in grades K-12 are using Minecraft: Education Edition to teach a range of subjects, from history and chemistry to sustainability and foreign languages, and can map lessons directly to specific learning outcomes and curriculum standards. FREE of charge for Maryland Public Schools


Robots and other Physical Computing

Edison Robots--Edison empowers students to become not just coders, but inventors, problem solvers and creative thinkers. More than a robot, Edison’s sensors and expandable build system open up pathways for learning across maths, science, critical thinking, engineering, design thinking and more. See Maryland developed resources and other information here. ROBOTS have a COST.

Microbits-The BBC micro:bit is a pocket-sized computer that introduces you to how software and hardware work together. It has an LED light display, buttons, sensors and many input/output features that, when programmed, let it interact with you and your world. The new micro:bit with sound adds a built-in microphone and speaker, as well as an extra touch input button and a power button. Students develop fluency in concepts and languages of computer systems and foster digital creativity in your classroom. Students make the connections between abstract ideas and real world outcomes by working with software and hardware together: designing, building, prototyping, iterating (the experience of improving a design, as well as making mistakes and learning from them). MICROBITS have a COST,  Emulator is FREE of charge. 

Mbots-are a STEM coding robot for beginners, that makes teaching and learning robot coding simple and fun. With just a screwdriver, and step by step instructions, and a study schedule, kids can build a robot from scratch and experience the joys of hands-on creation. As they go, they will learn about a variety of robotic machinery and electronic parts, get to grips with the fundamentals of block-based programming, and develop their logical thinking and design skills. ROBOTS have a COST. 

BirdBrain Robots-- Hummingbird  Robotics Kit consists of lights, motors, and sensors and is an easy-to-use, creative robotics tool which allows students to design, build, and program a personally meaningful robot out of any materials, with any device, in multiple programming languages BirdBlox, Snap!, MakeCode / JavaScript, Python, Java, Swift, Kotlin.There learning materials for classroom projects, robot building, programming, classroom integration, and professional development. Hummingbirds are recommended for students from 4th to 12th grade. Finch is a robot that brings computer science to life by providing students an engaging, hands-on representation of their code. There are learning materials for programming and classroom activities. The Finch is recommended for students from kindergarten to college and can be programmed in Program in FinchBlox, BirdBlox, Snap!, MakeCode / JavaScript, Python, Java, Swift, Kotlin. ROBOTS have a COST but are available to educators for two month loans FREE of charge. 

Lego Robots Spike Prime--is an intuitive, highly adaptive and scalable hands-on solution that will help build your students’ confidence in learning and develop 21st-century skills that are vital for future success. Spike Prime offers an easy getting-started experience with guides, teacher training, lesson plans, and intuitive builds and software to get your students immediately engaged. With easy-entry lessons and limitless creative design and learning opportunities, engage every student in STEAM learning and critical thinking. Leverage numerous cross-curricular, standards-aligned STEAM lessons ranging from 30 minutes to 120+ minutes. ROBOTS have a COST. 





Dianne O'Grady-Cunniff, dogrady at usmd dot edu
Director, Maryland Center for Computing Education

Dr. Megean Garvin, mgarvin at usmd dot edu
Director of Research, Maryland Center for Computing Education

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Maryland Center for Computing Education
3300 Metzerott Rd. Adelphi, MD 20783
MCCE received initial support from the National Science Foundation, (MSP)2 Grant No. 0831970.