By Suzanne Hartzell
Even though California is a leader in technological innovation, it trails other states when it comes to computer science education in public schools. There is little professional development funding, high schools are not required to offer computer science courses and, until recently, there were no computer science curriculum standards. The Computer Science Teachers Association began developing new standards, and a collective of educators, state representatives, and school district officials have been working on a framework to bring computer science into all K-12 grades. The framework will provide curriculum guidance, and the standards will outline student performance expectations.
It just so happens that Riverside Unified School District was ahead of the pack in designing and implementing computer science curriculum, and training educators to teach it. Chemawa and Sierra middle schools were RUSD's first to offfer a middle school science course. Teachers from those two schools received professional development and taught Computer Science Discoveries (CS Discoveries), an introductory computer science course that empowers students to create authentic artifacts and engage with computer science as a medium for creativity, communication, problem-solving, and fun.
Other RUSD schools were becoming state leaders in piloting and implementing computer science curriculum. RUSD hosted its first "Family Code Night," so parents could learn computer science alongside their kids. It was met with such success that now multiple schools are hosting them. RUSD’s commitment to bring more robust programs to all of their schools was clear. The goal was to create computer science pathways from elementary to high school and to expand teacher training opportunities, which often means looking to outside groups for help with funding.
Steve Kong, an RUSD instructional services specialist, looked to Google and, with the help of the district’s manager for grants and project development, Linda Christopher, applied for Google's CS Educator Grant.
“The grant required us to partner with research institutions or universities that offer professional development opportunities for teachers. We chose UCR Extension, as they are one of the only institutions currently offering a program for teachers to earn a supplementary authorization in computer science,” he explained.
UCR Extension’s supplementary authorization, approved by the Commission on Teacher Credentialing, prepares teachers to navigate a comprehensive computer science curriculum, including computational thinking, computing best practices, high-level programming, software design, data structure, and algorithms. The authorization is of value to K-12 educators, pre-service teachers, or school or district administrators in public, private, or charter school environments.
Kong continued: “In our program, we created an accelerated model for the UCR Extension program and established communities of practice (COP) for our teachers and instructors to collaborate, engage, and learn best practices and content. Currently in California, only 41 teachers hold the supplementary authorization to teach computer science, but our program added an additional 18. Our graduating cohort had 16 secondary teachers, one staff development specialist, and one instructional services specialist. Our program was also timely, as California will finally be releasing the new statewide computer science standards in fall 2018.”
Kong also shared comments from teachers who participated:
“I had a great experience. I went in hoping to learn about programming and how to implement it in my classroom, and came out feeling like a programmer!" said one teacher.
"The depth and breadth of knowledge gained was more than I could have hoped for," said another. "Not only did I receive an in-depth education in computer science, I also became part of a cohort that broadened my craft as a teacher. The relationships I built are priceless."