Sunday, October 11, 2015

Computer Science at the Elementary Level

I am not as computer savvy as the younger generation just entering into teaching, but I am not afraid of the computer.  Our students were born into a world where all they have ever known were computers in their lives.  The only computer class I took in high school had only the old apples or commodore 64s.  The new generation of teachers have probably never touched either of these.  I took a computer class in college, which just had me play with a few programs we might use when we had our own classroom.  So computer science is very foreign to me.

Last year I wanted to learn more about this whole "hour of code".  So I read up on it and visited  According to the site, this is part of computer science and anyone can do it.  I went through the tutorials and decided I really liked it and it had value to my students.  I put my first graders on it.  They absolutely loved it!  What I liked about it, was that sometimes students had to struggle through the puzzle.  They'd raise their hand and ask me to help I'd tell them I'd sit next to them as they gave it another try.  They always figured it out, maybe after multiple tries, but they did it.  The excitement was there, many students went home and completed puzzles at home on their own. So I'd say I dabbled in coding last year.

This year, our district invited a representative from the Orange County Department of Education out, to teach us about  Our district offered this unpaid professional development to anyone who'd like to attend on a Saturday.  I know it's very difficult to give up a Saturday and not be paid, but I was that interested in learning more.  It was a long training, 9:00 to 3:00, but I now feel I understand a little more about coding.  We had to complete 10 puzzles, it was funny to see adults struggling through puzzles that kids complete so quickly.  We each received a teacher's manual which had "unplugged" lessons in it.  These are lessons you can do with your students that do not require a computer.  My group thought there were some great lessons in the manual.  Although, we received a teachers manual with all the lessons, those lessons can also be found on their website.  We were broken into grade level groups and had to teach the lesson to the group of adults in attendance.  That was a learning experience.  It was nice to see what a lesson looks like in a kindergarten class versus a sixth grade class. 

If you are new to computer science and you would like to learn more, our trainer said that through most Department of Education offices there are trainers like her that go out to sites and train.  They are always free, but very often take place on a Saturday.  If you'd like to dabble, like I did last year, one of the things I learned was, if you would like to do this with non-readers to beginning readers, it is very do-able.  My first graders loved it, but what you want to do is start them in course 1.  If you have readers about second grade or higher reading level you want to start them in course 2.  If you start any higher then this, students may not understand what they are doing, as course 3 is based on things they learned in course 2.  I have students in my class this year that are reading at a first grade level and others reading at a fourth grade level, for this reason I have a few students starting in course 1 with the majority starting in course 2.  So, you do have the ability to have 2 different courses going. 

I'm writing this in hopes that there are other educators out there who are trying to figure this all out (maybe you are from the generation, where you weren't born with computers in your life) now have a place to begin.  This site is set up so it is very teacher friendly, even to those who aren't computer savvy.  AND don't be afraid to tell your students you don't know, but you will sit next to them and help them out.  I did that plenty my first year and will be doing that this year as well.

Happy Teaching!
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