Five ways teachers are bringing computer science to their schools

About the series: What Does a Code.org Classroom Look Like?” is a series of blog posts exploring the features that make Code.org professional development and curricula so unique and engaging for both teachers and students. This is blog post one of four.

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Read on to hear how teachers and administrators around the country used a variety of strategies to get computer science into their schools!

The nation’s K-12 teachers are leading the way when it comes to bringing computer science to their schools. From starting a coding club to hosting an Hour of Code to using resources directly from Code.org, teachers say they’ve implemented computer science in their schools by starting with a variety of low-barrier strategies.

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Are you interested in teaching computer science but unsure how to bring it to your school or district? We talked to teachers about how they brought CS to their schools. Take a look at the examples below for some ideas! And don’t forget: our Regional Partners are always willing to help —learn more about them, how they can help you, and then find yours here. You can learn more about our Professional Learning workshops, which will prepare you to teach computer science in your classroom, here.

Starting with an Hour of Code

For teachers like Demetra Adams, doing an Hour of Code was all it took to get students hooked on computer science. When Adams began teaching technology courses at Collins-Rhodes Elementary School in Prichard, Alabama, six years ago, her mentor mentioned the Hour of Code. Curious, Adams had her students try a few activities on the Hour of Code website. When she saw how much the kids enjoyed the variety of games and puzzles, she knew she wanted to implement the subject on a broader scale. And as the school’s only technology teacher and expert in the area, she already had the trust of the school’s administration.

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A student in Demetra Adam’s classroom doing an activity on Code.org. (Photo courtesy of Demetra Adams)

“I was already our school’s technology teacher, and that was just another project I knew I wanted to do,” she said. “I put up the [Hour of Code] posters and it all went from there.”

But as a teacher with a non-traditional CS background, the subject was as new to her as it was to her students. She found the Hour of Code activities expanded her definition of “computer science” to include creating apps and programs, versus just using them.

“Honestly, the crazy thing is, we never had anybody do this at my school. Initially I was totally going in the wrong direction — I was thinking about teaching students how to navigate Microsoft Office and things like that,” she said. “But I saw that computer science is much more than just how to create documents and send them and share them.”

Cory Bougher, a high school teacher at Switzerland County High School in Vevay, Indiana, had a similar experience.

Bougher teaches in a small community — “there’s just one stoplight in town,” she says — and she started experimenting with computer science after connecting with Nextech, Code.org’s Regional Partner in Indiana. She first tried Hour of Code with her students in 2016 on Nextech’s recommendation, and their encouragement ultimately helped sell the idea to her school’s administration. By fall of 2017, she was teaching the school’s first official computer science class. She says her school is now working on creating a comprehensive computer science pathway to prepare students to study the subject in college.

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Student projects from Cory Bougher’s AP CSP classroom.

“The first two cohorts in the intro course said they’d want an AP class version of the course,” said Bougher, “and this is the first year that every one of the students [in the AP class] has been in the intro class. Now we’re building a pipeline.”

Persuading admin and parents through bootcamps, data and Code.org curriculum

For CS Discoveries teacher Joell Boast, Khan Academy helped open the doors to Code.org — and then computer science more broadly.

“When I got hired as my school’s STEM person, I was using Khan Academy the first year and then I found Code.org,” said Boast. “I signed up for Code.org’s Professional Development and I realized, ‘This is perfect.’ The training was wonderful!”

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Students doing an Hour of Code at Morgan Middle School in Ellensburg, Wash. (Photo courtesy of Tiffany Price)

Boast teaches at Morgan Middle School, which is part of the Ellensburg School District in rural Central Washington state. The computer science curriculum was sparse in the district, and Boast collaborated with another teacher, Tiffany Price, to pioneer computer science in the district. Price came from the private sector but is currently the computer science teacher at Ellensburg High School, and the two began working together after Price’s son was in Boast’s class and discovered there were no CS classes at the high school for him to enroll in.

“My son was in [Joell’s]class, and we just assumed there would be computer science offered [at Ellensburg High School] but when we went to register, there was no class,” Price said. “That set me on a mission, and Joell and I have been working nonstop ever since that day to get CS in the high school.”

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Tiffany Price works with students in her CS classroom. Price had no teaching background but had worked in the technology industry for more than 20 years. (Photo courtesy of Tiffany Price)

Price, who had no teaching background but had worked in the technology industry for more than 20 years, left her career and earned a teaching certificate while working with Boast to start a computer science club at the high school in the absence of computer science classes. Student interest in computer science, along with information from Code.org, helped build support for offering computer science at the high school. “Code.org had great resources to prepare you to have conversations with parents, students, and administrators.”

A year later, computer science had generated enough student interest that there are now five computer science classes, including two sections AP Computer Science Principles. Price, the high school teacher, also said resources like the Code.org videos and curriculum were especially helpful to the success of the computer science program because she could easily implement both in her classroom. “The videos help because they connect the technology the students already use with how it works … and the AP CS Principles curriculum is truly great at attracting students of all backgrounds to computer science. I am actually bringing in more students — different students — who might otherwise be intimidated by the phrase ‘AP’.”

As part of their continued commitment to raising awareness for computer science, Price and Boast—along with an elementary school teacher, Carole Stevenson—taught a coding camp for kids ages 8–11. The local paper even wrote a short article covering the camps.

A district-wide approach

Still other educators, like Chris Taylor, were in the rare position to implement computer science from the top down. Taylor is the Science, Social Studies, and Sustainability Supervisor for the Boise School District (BSD), a district of 26,000 students in southwest Idaho. Taylor says when he started the job five years ago, the district had classes mostly centered around learning computer basics, which included curriculum on typing, creating presentations and making word documents. Taylor said he immediately recognized the need for a more comprehensive curriculum that not only taught students how to use computer science tools, but taught them how to create their own.

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Students at Borah High School, in the Boise School District, work through Code.org’s AP CS Principles curriculum. (Photo courtesy of Chris Taylor)

Like Tiffany Price and Joell Boast, he said that data from Code.org, such as the number of open computing jobs in the state and the potential earnings from a CS career, helped convince his peers at the district-level that CS was worth the investment.

“We implemented AP CS Principles and AP CS A, and this is our third year doing both classes, he said. “We have over 350 kids between the two.”

Taylor says the district uses Code.org’s CS Discoveries and CS Principles curriculums in its four high schools, and all five of the district’s CS teachers have taken a Code.org Professional Learning workshop.

Aside from using the curriculum, he said hosting events such as “STEM nights” have also been effective. The evenings allow students to showcase to parents and other teachers what they have been working on in class, which helps create a positive feedback loop that encourages the implementation of computer science.

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A project by a Borah High School student in an AP CS Principles class. (Photo courtesy of Chris Taylor)

“These ‘STEM nights’ are the catalyst to get STEM into our schools,” he said. “Parents say, ‘Wow, our kids are learning this?’ Then parents can push schools to offer computer science. Once they see it in action, they know it’s necessary.”

It takes just one small step to start

There are a number of ways to bring computer science to your school. If you’re an educator, start by connecting with the Code.org Regional Partner in your area. They can connect you with resources and trainings to introduce CS in your school more broadly. But you can also start small — try hosting an Hour of Code after school activity or club to gauge interest among students.

If you’re a parent or student, you can take the lead on asking your school to implement a CS curriculum. We have plenty of resources on our promote page, and you could also consider writing a letter to your school or district administration.

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The ways to implement computer science in YOUR school are as diverse as the educators who teach CS classes. Have you implemented CS in your school in a way not covered here? Please let us know!

If you loved what you read and want to bring computer science to your school, consider taking one of our Professional Learning workshops!

-Kirsten O’Brien, Code.org

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Code.org® is dedicated to expanding access to computer science increasing participation by young women and students from other underrepresented groups.

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