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6 ways computer science energizes STEM learning

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Computer science curriculum gives students engaging pathways for STEM learning with a standards-aligned experience. Computer science can also leverage game-based learning, weave together engineering and math learning, and provide personalized pathways that support all learners -- novice, mid-range and expert-level alike.

And computer programming is fun; it’s something students enjoy participating in. There are certainly academic benefits, but the activities also build a growth mindset and other social emotional learning skills, such as determination and persistence. 

Knowing this, our school is participating in a grant program with the National Science Foundation, South Fayette Township in Kentucky and another local school district that emphasizes STEM learning through computer science.

When one of our teachers heard about an online coding, robotics, and computing platform, she started using it in her classroom. We then decided to include it in a professional development setting that we were planning for the summer, thinking it would also be really beneficial for our kids. 

We wound up implementing CoderZ across our 3,500-student district and using components for summer school. Through the grant program, our district purchased a robot for every preschool through eighth grade student, each of whom was able to take it home as a reward for attending all four weeks of summer school. By the end of the summer session, students had the tools they needed to learn how to code and transfer the code, and the ability to do it on their own at home.

We've seen firsthand how this program benefits our students , specifically in the way that computer science learning:

Opens doors

Computing occupations are the number one source of all new wages in the US and make up over half of all projected new jobs in STEM fields. In Kentucky, there are currently 4,315 open computing jobs with an average salary of $74,833. Yet, only 45% of all public high schools teach a foundational course in this skill. Teacher preparation programs in Kentucky did not graduate a single new teacher prepared to teach computer science in 2018. To open the doors to high-paying computer science careers, current classroom teachers need to feel confident in their ability to integrate computer science into their classrooms. A platform such as CoderZ gives individual students the chance to thrive in a field full of opportunity, and teachers the chance to learn too.

Engages students

Computer science keeps students immersed and excited about coding the robots and other aspects of STEM learning. It's hands-on and one task builds on the next.

Makes coding equitable

Students work independently and gain confidence. As the content grows in complexity, students help each other to develop better code and develop collaboration and teamwork skills. Every student is involved. We can make coding equitable for our students with special needs and use it to challenge our gifted students. Whether it’s a kindergarten girl or an eighth-grade boy, they all start in the same place and can grow. 

Meets state technology standards

This year, our state rolled out new technology standards that are used as graduation requirements. We’re working with the CoderZ team on ways to use the program to meet those technology standards. It won't address all the standards, but it will address a portion of them.

Equips students with coding skills

To be future-ready, every student should have a basic understanding of coding. A good computer science and STEM program can differentiate instruction to engage both newbies and experienced coders. One of the things that stood out for us was the CoderZ Amazon Cyber Robotics Challenge, which gave students an up close/real-life look at how coding and robotics is used in everyday life.  

Gets girls interested in STEM

Many girls opt out of focusing on math and science skills by middle school. Hands-on computer science is a captivating way to overcome girls’ reluctance to participate in math and science. We've seen this happen firsthand with the girls who work on our computer science based STEM projects. 

Since we started using our coding curriculum, we’ve seen some of our high school students do some things that really blew us away. We recently sat in on a “mini–Shark Tank” event where students came in and presented all these great, sellable ideas that had to involve coding. It’s really opened some students’ eyes to what coding can do. When choosing a computer science platform, it's important to consider:

  • Technology speed and delivery. Technology behind a quality STEM program is paramount to its success. Without it, students suffer from issues such as limited access, slow load times, and an underwhelming visual experience. Disappointing students early in their experience with any program creates a long road to reengagement.  
  • Balance between standards and fun. Where a system with myriad features may lack standards-aligned lessons, a pedagogically-strong offering may not be as appealing for students to use.
  • Teacher-centered support. A computer science program must be easy for teachers to access and use -- and learn from -- so they can help their own students succeed. 

A strong program can also balance its capacity to deliver on all fronts. When adding computer science, be sure to choose a flexible program built on robust technology that includes educator support.  

Bobby Akers is a district digital learning coach, Denise Isaac is chief instructional officer of technology, and Mike Bell is a district digital learning coach at Floyd County Schools in Kentucky. The team recently implemented CoderZ in their computer science curriculum.
 

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