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    Computer Science Journey through Elementary School Space

    School Year 2019-20  (Planning Grant Funds Received and Utilized)

    Elementary Computer Science was nonexistent in Cache County School District prior to the Computer Science Planning Grant.  Thus, we chose to focus on the elementary space during our planning phase and determine how we could begin teaching many of the Computer Science standards defined by USBE.

    Preceding the Computer Science Planning Grant, time was set aside during the elementary school day for students to go to a computer lab and have “computer lab” time.  The lab time was different between schools.  Some schools taught keyboarding and Google skills.  Other schools used the time at the teachers’ discretion to extend what students were learning in the classroom.  A paraprofessional staff member oversaw the computer lab and conducted any necessary instruction in partnership with the classroom teacher.   The paraprofessional was at the mercy of the principal or teacher as to what was covered during computer time.

    Once we applied for and received USBE’s Planning Grant, we knew that we needed to improve how the elementary computer lab time was being utilized.  We wanted to create a positive Computer Science experience in all 17 of our elementary schools.  Our Planning Grant Committee determined that teaching coding was the best use of our elementary computer lab time.  We decided to use code.org’s Elementary Curriculum as the base for our elementary curriculum since it was well established and ready to go.  The following curriculum map was designed and implemented:

    • Code.org’s Course A&B was taught to all 1st grade classes.
    • Code.org’s Course C was taught to all 2nd grade classes.
    • Code.org’s Course D was taught to all 3rd and 4th grade classes.
    • Code.org’s Course E was taught to all 5th grade classes.
    • Code.org’s Course F was taught to all 6th grade classes.

    Because Computer Science time was limited in the elementary space, we wanted to focus on coding.  Students were in a computer lab during computer time, and it made sense to capitalize on using the computers.  Code.org includes several unplugged activities within their curriculum and the committee suggested we skip these.  Thus, weekly lesson plans were developed for each grade level for the Computer Science Specialists to follow.  (The paraprofessionals in the elementary computer labs were now called Computer Science Specialists to correlate with the existing Music, Art, and PE Specialists.)  The weekly lesson plans allowed all Computer Science Specialists to teach identical and coordinated lessons throughout the year.  The lesson plans included links to videos, demonstration puzzles, practice puzzles, and the puzzles where students were to begin during their open work time.  Supplemental teaching materials were developed where code.org’s teaching materials fell short.  This was the first time that the Elementary Schools had a unified Computer Science curriculum taught at all 17 elementary schools. 

    The Computer Science Specialists were somewhat uncomfortable teaching coding so we began training them extensively on how to code.  We used the Scratch Unit from Exploring Computer Science as our basis for this training.  Our overarching goal was to help the Computer Science Specialists gain the confidence to not only teach coding, but to realize that it was completely acceptable if they did not know the answer to students’ questions or how to solve a specific problem.  We showed them how to turn the question back to the class and to solve the issue or answer the question collectively.  We taught them to implement pair programming as a teaching methodology.  Throughout this training, most Computer Science Specialists received it positively and were excited to be teaching coding.  They loved having structure, having a curriculum, and being told what to teach.  We met monthly to evaluate how things were going in their classes and to make changes as needed.

    We knew that code.org’s curriculum would suffice for this year and would get us started with the idea of teaching coding during computer lab time.  But we knew that we needed a more robust curriculum and something that was more self-sufficient and sustainable.  Code.org needed too much supplementing and it did not provide the help needed for teachers to teach it well.  As part of our planning grant, we used funds to research other elementary curriculum programs to better know what was available and what would be possible for our elementary classrooms.  In January, we met with a company called TechSmart and were very interested in their philosophies surrounding Computer Science and teaching coding.  We scheduled a trip to Seattle to see how schools were executing TechSmart in the elementary setting and beyond.

    Once we had a good plan to teach coding, we realized we also needed a common computer lab time schedule within our elementary schools.  District elementary leadership were an integral part of our planning grant meetings throughout the year and worked out the logistics to increase the elementary school day by 10 minutes each day for a total of 50 minutes each week.  Thirty of those minutes we allocated to Computer Science.  This resulted in students having a full 60 minutes each week in the computer lab to learn coding.  Grades 3-6, however, still had the keyboarding requirement, so 20 minutes each week would be allocated to keyboarding and the remaining 40 minutes would be utilized to teach coding.  The plan was to implement this schedule change for the 2020-21 school year.

    When COVID shut down all of the schools in March, it also shut down our progress on the planning grant as well as teaching coding in the elementary schools.  The good news is that we already had the foundation of a very good plan in place.  We were not able to go to Seattle to visit schools using TechSmart, but we were able to meet with TechSmart virtually and obtain demo accounts for our teachers to use temporarily.  We also had a good start on our Computer Science plan for the district and had begun working on our grant proposal.

    It is also important to state that we used some of our planning grant funds to pay a couple of Computer Science Specialists to put the developed code.org lesson plans online for students to access and work on at home.  Computer lab time is not a graded subject so there was no requirement for students to work on coding at home.  However, many students wanted to practice coding (and may of their parents wanted them to code) at home.  Thus, we converted our teaching materials to an online format and communicated with Computer Science Specialists how to have their students access the online lessons so they could send the information to parents.

    Overall, we were headed down a great path in the elementary schools.  Early in this process, we established the mantra, “Foster a positive coding experience for all elementary students.”  Anytime we wondered what we should do, we asked ourselves, “Are we creating a positive coding experience?”  If we were, then we kept going.  If not, we re-evaluated.  We used this mantra in all of our meetings for guidance and direction and continue to do so to this day.


    School Year 2020-21  (Partial Year 1 Funds Received and Utilized)

    We were one of the early grant recipients for partial grant funds, but due to the unsureness of future grant funds, we chose not to purchase the TechSmart curriculum for elementary schools so that we could utilize the funds received to secure a solid coding curriculum in our secondary schools.  We decided to continue with code.org and to also implement Scratch programming in grades 3-6 in February and March.  Code.org changes their curriculum each year so we had to make modifications to our supplemental lesson plans.  Also, note that during the 2019-20 school year 3rd and 4th graders used the same curriculum -- Course D.  If we continued that pattern the following year, our 3rd graders going to 4th grade would repeat the exact same lessons.  We did not want students to have to repeat curriculum, so in the 2020-21 school year we had 4th graders use Course E with the 5th graders.

    The following curriculum map was implemented:

    • Code.org’s Course A&B was taught to all 1st grade classes.
    • Code.org’s Course C was taught to all 2nd grade classes.
    • Code.org’s Course D was taught to all 3rd grade classes.
    • Code.org’s Course E was taught to all 4th and 5th grade classes.
    • Code.org’s Course F was taught to all 6th grade classes.

    In February and March (and for the rest of the school year), all schools used the Scratch cards developed by Scratch as the teaching curriculum in grades 3-6.

    We had a greater than 50% turnover in our Computer Science Specialists and had to train 11 new specialists for this year.  We were able to use grant funds to train these new teachers in coding as well as have them work with the existing Computer Science Specialists.  We continued teaching and training all specialists how to code utilizing Scratch and the Exploring Computer Science Scratch module.  This change had an unexpected positive outcome:  the existing specialists were able to demonstrate their coding abilities, which increased their personal confidence in being able to teach coding.  Moreover, they expressed the fact that they were not familiar with coding previously and they were able to teach coding successfully.  This brought relief to the new specialists because they witnessed that learning to code and to teach it was an attainable goal.

    Due to COVID, our district executed a shortened school-day schedule for the 2020-21 school year.  The school day was decreased by 90 minute each day so that teachers could spend time with students who were working online from home.  As stated previously, the plan was to increase the elementary school day by 10 minutes by starting school earlier.  The elementary schools had already communicated with parents about this change in the school day.  Thus, the elementary schools still invoked the change to start school 10 minutes earlier each day, however, that extra time was used for other teaching due to the reduced time in core subjects.  Computer lab time was cut back to the shorter time allocation used in the 2019-20s school year and, once again, the time allotted for computer lab was not consistent between schools.  We all had to give a little bit during this anomaly of a year, so we just pressed forward with our plan.  In hindsight, it was good that we chose to stick with code.org for this school year and not spend the extra money on TechSmart since our computer time between schools was unpredictable.

    Our mantra “A positive coding experience for all elementary students” continues to drive all that we do in the elementary schools. 


    School Year 2021-22  (Remaining Year 1 Funds Received and Utilized)

    Again, since we did not receive full funding or any commitment for future funding, we continued to focus our funding on our secondary schools to increase teacher capacity and secure secondary curriculum for the future.  In the elementary schools we continued to use code.org and Scratch and did not purchase the TechSmart curriculum.  We continued to teach elementary Computer Science Specialists how to code and used grant money to pay for their time.  We had seven new specialists join our team and we needed to bring them up to speed as well as continue increasing the confidence in our existing teachers.

    In 2021-22, our state believed that COVID was mostly behind us and so we started the school year under our normal schedule and we were finally able to receive the benefit of the 10-minute increase in the elementary school day.   Students in grades 1-6 were allocated 60 minutes in the computer lab each week.  However, in December of 2021, our COVID cases increased dramatically and the school day was pulled back to the shortened schedule executed last year.  The problem was that once the school day was shortened, it proved to be difficult to revert it to the full day schedule.  Thus, we finished out the school year on the shortened schedule.  And, yes, this meant that computer lab time was back to the shorter allocation and was not consistent between schools – again.

    Code.org still changed their curriculum so we had to make more modifications to our supplemental lesson plans. We also increased the grade levels where the duplicate curriculum was taught so the 5th graders would not repeat the same lessons.  This year we used Course F for the 5th and 6th grade curriculum.

    The following curriculum map was implemented:

    • Code.org’s Course A&B was taught to all 1st grade classes.
    • Code.org’s Course C was taught to all 2nd grade classes.
    • Code.org’s Course D was taught to all 3rd grade classes.
    • Code.org’s Course E was taught to all 4th grade classes.
    • Code.org’s Course F was taught to all 5th and 6th grade classes.

    The feedback from teachers indicated that the students were getting a little bored with code.org so we started Scratch earlier this year in December.  Grades 3 and 4 continued using the Scratch cards as their Scratch curriculum.  Using grant funds, we purchased Scratch activity books for the teachers to use in their 5th and 6th grade classes.  The students and teachers loved this expansion of Scratch.

    Luckily, we were able to limp along in the elementary schools using code.org and Scratch for three years.  Doing so provided a positive coding experience for most of our elementary students.  And although it was not our intent to bypass TechSmart in the elementary setting, we did.  But we knew we would not be able to continue with code.org and create our own supplemental lessons.  We truly needed to partner with a company for our elementary Computer Science curriculum so that our students could have a “positive coding experience.”  In January, we were introduced to Jeremy Keeshin from CodeHS.  He was interested in the idea of partnering with Cache County School District and developing a coding curriculum for grades K-6.  We met several times with him and his team between March and June and signed a contract for this endeavor.  We had enough funds in our grant to cover the costs for one year and to help some elementary schools purchase iPads, which is what is required for their curriculum.  Thus, we will be utilizing CodeHS for our elementary curriculum next year.  (This is somewhat ironic since their name includes an “HS” suffix.)  We are excited to see how this change improves Computer Science in our elementary schools.


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