In the future, every ICSD student will use computer science principles to become users and creators of knowledge.
That’s the aim of a team of teachers and administrators looking to integrate computer science into the district’s curriculum over the next several years, empowering all students to be fluent in its applications from an early age.
Teachers from Ithaca High School, Lehman Alternative Community School and Boynton Middle School, the district’s technology integration team, and building- and district-level administrators are working with the CSforAll Consortium to bring computer science education to all K-12 students. Through a Computer Science Education Visions Research-Practice Partnership grant, the team is working with researchers from New York University who are supporting the integration of computer science applications into everyday lessons, while also studying the ICSD’s process, with the aim of helping other districts make similar shifts.
Under the grant, team members have attended conferences, learned about new technologies and started planning for implementation. Other local schools are also participating in CSforAll, which provides an avenue for districts to learn from one another.
Computer science skills enable students to become active producers of technology, not just consumers. While coding languages are part of that, ICSD intends on using a broader definition of computer science education that includes principles of computational and systems thinking – skills like breaking problems into smaller parts, thinking logically, interpreting patterns, observing cause-and-effect relationships, and developing a series of instructions to get from one point to another.
Ideally, all students will be exposed to computer science principles and begin practicing these skills in the early elementary grades. Those applications can be tied into project-based learning that ICSD students already experience, and team members are developing exemplar case studies that include computational and systems thinking for teachers to replicate and build upon.
Inclusivity is another large piece of the puzzle. Currently, most computer science opportunities for students take place outside the school day. An after-school coding program at Belle Sherman Elementary is immensely popular, but demand for the class outpaces the number of available spots, and students with other after-school activities or transportation barriers can’t attend. Including computer science in everyday instruction opens it to all students, making it more likely they’ll pursue it through their time in ICSD.
“Only a very small slice of kids has this as part of their experience in high school,” said Jennifer Wilkie, teacher on special assignment. “We need to change that dynamic so every kid has the opportunity to have that experience.”
After developing a baseline understanding of computer science and building capacity, the work begins to include the principles in ICSD classrooms. During the 2018-19 school year, teachers and team members will develop a framework for which experiences children should have at each grade level, with the aim of completely weaving computer science into the academic fabric of the district within five years.