Computer Science Journey through Middle School Space
School Year 2019-20 (Planning Grant Funds Received and Utilized)
One of the overarching initiatives for K-12 Computer Science is for all students to have a coding experience every year throughout their schooling. This is particularly challenging for our secondary schools. Students do not always take the same classes and the number of required courses varies from year to year. Moreover, there are more options for those “required” courses – meaning more than one math course can fill the 8th grade math requirement. These challenges are less extreme in the middle schools than the high school and we were able to capitalize on some of the required courses to include a Computer Science experience. However, students at this level will begin to self-select whether they will continue with the coding pathway.
As part of our planning grant time, we met with middle school teachers and discussed how to extend the plan for every student to learn how to code that we had established in the elementary schools. In the end, we determined that we could utilize the required 7th grade College and Career Awareness course and the required 8th grade Digital Literacy course to meet our goal. Both courses had standards that included coding. Thus, we decided that we could include a two to three-week coding unit in each of those classes.
We also reviewed the existing “coding” courses offered in the middle schools. All three of the middle schools were offering Creative Coding and each school was teaching it completely differently. There was no communication or uniformity between the middle school Creative Coding teachers. We asked these teachers if they would like to work together to find a curriculum that they would all be willing to teach and to establish some uniformity in what and how they were teaching coding in the middle schools. They agreed to do so and examined TechSmart and other Computer Science curricula. In the end, they felt that TechSmart would be the best option for teaching coding in the middle schools.
The good news is that the groundwork was laid before COVID closed schools and we only had to have a few virtual meetings afterward to solidify our plan for the middle schools. We would have to wait for grant funding to be received before we could fully execute the plan, but we knew what we needed to do for our grant. Thus, at the middle school level, planning grant funds were strictly used to plan for what we wanted to include in our grant and list what we would be able to do if we were fully funded. No planning grant funds were used to purchase middle school curriculum during this phase.
School Year 2020-21 (Partial Year 1 Funds Received and Utilized)
We were lucky enough to be one of the nine districts chosen to receive partial funding for the first year of the grant. Because we were able to develop a good plan for our secondary schools during the planning phase of the grant, we knew exactly what we wanted and needed to do and we executed that plan. We entered into a partnership with TechSmart to provide curriculum and training for all of our middle schools. This curriculum included the 7th grade College and Career Awareness module, the 8th grade Digital Literacy module, and the full Intro to Python I and II curriculum. The College and Career Awareness and Digital Literacy classes would use block coding in Python to extend what students learned in the elementary schools. Python I and II courses would use line-based Python coding to foster students with a more real-world coding experience.
We met with all 7th grade College and Career Awareness and 8th grade Digital Literacy teachers and reviewed the plan. We set up a training schedule and selected a “curriculum curator” who would lead the group in determining what sections of the TechSmart curriculum would line up with the established standards for these two courses. All teachers who wanted to be involved with this planning were invited to do so. Some teachers were happy to teach whatever the group put in place. The teaching plan would be the same for College and Career Awareness and Digital Literacy for the first year (2021-22) and then the next year (2022-23), Digital Literacy would expand on what was covered in College and Career Awareness.
Coding teachers were able to begin training on TechSmart’s Python course and they learned how to code in Python. Many of them had never coded in a high-level language before so this was an eye-opening and sometimes overwhelming experience for them. The change was received positively. Using grant funds, we paid the teachers to meet and work on their unified curriculum together. By the end of the 2020-21 school year, they were solid on how to use TechSmart and ready to teach Python the next school year. They requested that we remove “Creative Coding” as a course from their course catalog and replace it with “Intro to Python I and II.” That way students knew what they were registering for and what they would be taught.
Now that we were offering Intro to Python in the middle schools, our teachers needed to be able to earn their Intro to Computer Science Endorsement. Through our established partnership with USU, some of our middle school coding teachers started taking classes and working on their endorsement. Of course, this process takes time, so they will continue to work on it for more than this year. Grant funds were used to reimburse teachers the $350 in continuing education tuition costs if they successfully completed the course. “Successfully completed” means they earned a C or better. We also have a clause that warns teachers if they leave the district in less than three years after being reimbursed, they will have to pay the grant back the funds. (The hope is that we are investing in our teachers to teach our classes.)
And the good news is that we were able to accomplish all of this in a year of COVID. We were able to prepare our teachers and secure curriculum to begin teaching next school year. Without this first year of partial funding, we would not have been able to do that.
School Year 2021-22 (Remaining Year 1 Funds Received and Utilized)
For the first time, the 7th grade College and Career Awareness course and the 8th grade Digital Literacy course taught a unified Computer Science coding lesson in their courses. And Intro to Python I and II were offered and taught at all three middle schools, utilizing a developed plan by all teachers involved with the courses. These accomplishments are simply stated, but the work, effort, and communication behind the scenes was remarkable. This took buy-in from teachers and administrators from each school.
We continued with our plan and secured training and curriculum for all of our College and Career Awareness teachers, Digital Literacy teachers, and Intro to Python teachers. We paid for those materials through the 2022-23 school year so we could have continuity for at least two years.
To continue the plan for the required 7th grade College and Career Awareness course and the required 8th grade Digital Literacy course, an additional training session was established for the Digital Literacy teachers and will be held during the summer. They will need to be able to build on what was covered in College and Career Awareness.
We had one middle school teacher complete her Intro to Computer Science endorsement. We offered a stipend for anyone who earned a Computer Science endorsement and so she received that stipend.
With our full first year of grant funds, we were able to establish a pathway for middle school students to learn to code in Python. Students will be able to take those skills and transfer them to other coding languages as they continue with their coding experience in future years.