Saturday, November 26, 2016

Equity in CS: Empowered to take action

A few years ago, Google came out with a paper entitled, "Women Who Choose Computer Science - What Really Matters." The link to the entire paper is available here.  It's an incredible paper in many ways, but the big takeaway for me was that we are in a position to do something to close the gender gap in education right now. To me, this was incredibly empowering - to realize that there are factors substantiated by research that make a tremendous difference in a girl's life in terms of choosing CS as a degree major. According to the paper, it all comes down to encouragement and exposure. Specifically, this paper found four key influencing factors: social encouragement, self perception, academic exposure, and career perception. Even more amazing was that this research found that uncontrollable factors such as parental occupation play a limited role in women choosing a CS degree.

Armed with this understanding of the impact that exposure and encouragement can have, I started a Girls Who Code club at the middle school I was teaching at. Through this experience, I came to see that Girls Who Code was as much about building community as it was about inspiring the students about computer science. The girls even got to speak at a national STEM conference and sponsor a schoolwide CS event with student council. Fast forward to 2016 and come to find out that research with Accenture and Girls Who Code has found that middle school is a critical time to spark young girls' interest in computer science, coming back again to the all-important role that encouragement and exposure play. This research then goes on to share ways to continue to sustain that engagement in CS through the high school years and on into college where they are inspired toward a career in computing. The link to the article is here. 

Going beyond what was happening just at my school, my district became part of the K-12 Alliance with NCWIT.  Inspired through this partnership, my district has started an initiative called PVWIT in order to address the issues of equity and access in the field of computer science. It's been amazing to see this effort grow, expand and reach students all over. Just last weekend, PVWIT hosted its first Code-a-thon. The way I like to think of it is that the only thing better than creating and coding on your own is to create and code with a community...and that's just what Code-a-thons are all about. I knew that I wanted to gear it toward K-5 students and have middle school students there to help out as well. I invited 14 teachers and the district IT team to host tables: Scratch, robotics, Raspberry Pis, and more. We marketed through social media and teachers sent home bookmarks, paper reminder bracelets and stickers in agendas. I created passports for the day of the Code-a-thon so coders could go around to all the stations we had.

Code-a-thon bookmarks, passports and stickers

I also wanted mentoring to be a part of the whole experience, so I reached out to local industry volunteers with a Women in IT volunteer initiative (in my case, this was American Express). I also reached out to my local university's Women in Computing club with whom I had connected before on class projects and they were also happy to send 5 volunteers. It was great to see industry work alongside university alongside middle school and elementary students - mentoring and community is what it is all about. Or, coming back to the research - we are here finding ways to encourage and expose students to CS as a way to work toward equity in CS.

Code-a-thon 2016

Industry, college and district volunteers

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

Get Ready! Hour of Code 2016

I am so excited to share about the more than 200 Hour of Code activities available here.
What is the Hour of Code? It's a global effort to "celebrate computer science" that has engaged communities all over in one-hour tutorials.  It is held during Computer Science Education Week to recognize "Amazing Grace's" birthday. One of my favorite quotes from Grace Hopper herself: "I've always been more interested in the future than in the past." How fitting a statement to describe the Hour of Code as it inspires our future with the wonders and possibilities of computer science.

A really awesome feature on the Hour of Code site here is the filter tool that allows searching by grade level, teacher experience, student experience, classroom technology available (Android, iPad, no computers and more), topic, activity type, length, and language (blocks, typing, or other).

For those with no computers or devices, it is still possible to teach computer science concepts using unplugged activities that can be found here. These are great ways for students to engage with computational concepts such as algorithms, programming, binary, and more - all without the need of a computer.

Wanting to code with robots? You can go here to find Hour of Code tutorials for Hummingbird, Finch, Dash, and Ozobots.

For resources on how to get involved, #HourOfCode on social media. Go here to find templates for emails, letters, stickers, posters, and flyers to print off to promote and celebrate the Hour of Code in your communities.

Monday, November 7, 2016

Computational Thinking for Educators

It's been a while since I first wrote posts about computational thinking and the resources available since those first posts have grown tremendously. One of my favorite ones for educators is the Computational Thinking for Educators course with Google available here.  While the original course is finished, the modules are still available on the website. Here is a brief video introducing the course:

What I love about it is that it really brings computational thinking (CT)into the world of educators. Through simulations and tasks that participants can interact with, learners see that CT can be applied to various subject areas. For example, in the 'traveling problem,' learners experiment with finding the shortest, most efficient path on an actual Google map with the goal of exploring algorithms. There is the opportunity to explore and find patterns in music using an activity created using Pencil Code. With Turtle geometry, learners have the opportunity to apply CT while finding patterns in geometry. 

 I found this course is an incredible way to not only learn about CT, but to experience it and reflect on how to apply it to my own teaching practice. The final task of the course was to create a lesson plan that integrates CT - in other words, applying the course content to teaching real kids. There is a collection of CT lessons created by educators available here. It is possible to search for the relevant subject area and age range to make it easier to find lesson just right for anyone to use and bring CT to their classroom. CT is truly for everyone, everywhere. 

Saturday, November 5, 2016

CS Goes Global

In an increasingly globalized world, it is all the more essential that students not only gain knowledge of world around them, but also gain experiences of engaging global collaboration.  Indeed, global awareness is one of the interdisciplinary themes that the Partnership for 21st Century Skills includes in its framework (P21, 2007).  Specifically, this theme includes not only being able to address global issues, but also engaging in global collaboration with others from diverse cultures (P21, 2007).  The thread of global awareness coupled with the theme of learning and innovation which highlights the imperative to focus on creativity, critical thinking, collaboration and communication (Larmer, Ross, & Mergendoller, 2009) provides a powerful way to approach research into global collaborative inquiry.  Implicit in this is a focus on students’ ability to work in a creative way with others which emphasizes their ability to be openminded to new ideas while incorporating feedback from others into their work (P21, 2007).  Throughout the collaboration, the students learned to view setbacks as opportunities to grow.  
To address these critical areas surrounding global collaboration I tried to come up with a way to weave into it my passion for computer science education along with computational thinking and creativity.  I ended up partnering students in the United States (US) with students in the Bahamas as they engaged in a global computer science collaboration.  Why computer science and computational thinking?  Computer science is ubiquitous in today’s world where programming, developing makerspaces, and constructing are making their way into homes, schools, and communities.  President Obama recently announced a nationwide statement in support of computer science education for all.  In conjunction with this, 90 of the CEOs of the nation’s most powerful and influential companies recently came together to sign a letter outlining the critical importance of computer science education that was delivered to Congress.  Computer science K-12 education encompasses robotics, programming, and computational thinking platforms.
        Through a mutual friend, I ended up connecting with a school in the Bahamas and got a global computer science collaboration underway between a school in the US and one in the Bahamas. At the same time, I got to work building out a website that both schools could use to guide them through the process. Challenges? I knew there would be many. Opportunities? I knew the potential was there for them to be life-changing for teachers and students involved. Benefits? I knew they would be invaluable.  Collaboration has, in fact, been defined as “the condition that occurs when two or more people or organizations join forces over a  long period to produce something neither can achieve alone” (Freeman, p. 33, 1993).  Figure 1 outlines the process I used to develop and implement the platform for global computer science collaboration.  The first phase involved creating the computer science collaboration website along the supplementary resources such as support videos.  

Screen Shot 2016-03-27 at 5.46.01 PM.png
The next phase involved visiting with teachers to get user feedback on the website and using the feedback to then revise enhance the collaboration experience.  A critical support was added by creating short instructional videos to show and model how to get started with the coding required by the website.  The videos not only supported the teachers, but also the students.  This kind of explicit support provided helpful guidance as schools engage in digital collaboration (Solem et al., 2003).  
FIGURE 1.  Organization of student and teacher support for CS Goes Global
Along the journey of global collaboration, there were successes, as seen in one of the initial emails from the teacher in the Bahamas:
Hello Janice
It went well thank you the kids are really enjoying it. A couple of them got to number 9. We had a few new faces too which was good. Looking forward to next week.
Many thanks
And then there were challenges, as I knew there would be:
Hi there Janis,
The session went well today...... Was kinda disappointed that only 9 students came though ....... The teachers promised me that they will push it some more and hopefully more kids will come out next week.
Here are some Pics that I took today ..... I'll be sure to take more some time this week.
Talk soon
A major challenge facing schools and teachers who are implementing a new project is the time factor.  Teachers are often limited to covering the scope of their curriculum and in order to take on a global collaboration such as this, it requires clear communication, buy-in, and the cooperation of the teachers themselves.  The lead-collaborator stated the following:
So tell me something now...because I have to convince the computer teacher, the computer science teacher now.  Because you’ve done this before, what approach should I take because computer coding is not part of any curriculum here in the Bahamas.  How am I supposed to ...or what...can you give me some advice?  What should I say to the computer science teacher or what should be an angle I approach it at?  Hey, I want access to your computer science kids...what?  You know, this is not in the curriculum.
In overcoming this challenge, I brainstormed with the lead-collaborator various benefits to global collaboration in general and computer science collaboration specifically:
But really, it’s about kids creating, communicating, collaborating and not just using technology but creating with it and that’s powerful when they can really unleash their imagination and create things, create games, not just play them, you know what I’m saying?  Yeah, so, and it really teaches critical thinking, logical thinking, problem-solving skills and it’s really foundational to a lot of other things.  We live in this age where everyone has a cell phone, everybody has a device, but no one really understands how they work or how to program them, so it’s really an essential literacy.
In strategizing how to talk with the cooperating teacher, the lead collaborator tried to approach it from the perspective of getting the collaboration completed during the school day so as not to occupy extra time outside of school:
That’s going to be my approach when I talk with her tomorrow. My first approach is going to be Let’s find some way to get this done in the school day and then the good thing is that in that school, she’s the only teacher, so it’s not like she has to go talk to someone else about it.  She makes up the whole department so I can ask her and if she’s kind of like hmmm… then I’ll go to the club thing. But my goal is to get it as part of the normal school day.
Another major challenge to consider is to how the communication will occur during the collaboration.  The researcher shared her perspective on this topic:
Okay, just because that’s the initial thing we need to figure out.  How they are going to communicate, how they are going to share information. So I’ve tried different ways and it’s you know, tough, when you don’t have a system in place.  
After reviewing various possibilities with the lead-collaborator from Edmodo to Google Apps for Education, it became clear that creating a custom website for the purpose of this collaboration was the best solution.  In order to maintain communication, we decided to use Google Hangouts as well as email as needed.  
It is inevitable that all sorts of situations may arise.  Everything from failed internet connectivity to firewalled websites could occur.  I've learned it is important to enter collaboration with a flexible and persistent mindset.  In this case, I planned to be online when the coding club was meeting in the Bahamas to be able to troubleshoot and provide immediate support.
  Challenges, yes, but how about the opportunities and benefits to global collaboration? In the words of a district leader I interviewed, he shared the following:
When I went to school, my competition was the kid in the seat next to me, but we are in a mobile and global society so when I say world-class thinkers, I’m talking about kids that are bright and can think with the best of them in the world.  So they can compete globally, but they know how to compete globally in terms of interactivity, globally, so on and so forth, so world-class encompasses quite a bit for me.
From this, it is clear that learning on a global scale is of great importance. He goes on to further outline what global collaboration has the potential to bring to students:
My goal is to set up systems and encourage our educators to incorporate thinking opportunities in the class, critical thinking, innovation, problem solving, creativity, all those things that are so critical so that through that process, they have a better understanding of what they are doing and those thinking skills allow them to apply knowledge too.  Inherently, through the process of thinking.
This statement echoes the feeling from the lead-collaborator in the Bahamas, who has an acute understanding of the benefits that such experiences offer the children on her island.  The experience of global collaboration connects to the Global Competence Matrix (Mansilla & Jackson, 2011) in that students see their own as well as others’ perspectives.  
Global Competence Matrix (Mansilla & Jackson, 2011)
As the lead-collaborator stated :
One of the main [benefits] was disintegrating stereotypes, you know, and getting kids, especially kids living in developing countries such as the Bahamas - getting them to be a little bit more exposed to the outside world.  Especially when you live on an island, you tend to think often that this is the world and it's kind of easy to forget that there's a whole huge great big world out there and often times kids from poorer countries don't ever get to experience.
As a result of the type of global collaboration offered by this research, the lead-collaborator shared about the potential to transform students’ learning.  This experience connects to the Global Competence Matrix (Mansilla & Jackson, 2011) in the areas of investigating the world and communicating ideas.  Through this US-Bahamas collaboration, they gained a deeper understanding of the world through this interdisciplinary experience of computer science, art, and communication as evidenced by the statement below from the lead-collaborator:
I think it got the kids thinking they got the children thinking about different ways. That you can get something done, get a project completed with people that aren't in the same geographical location as you are which I think is extremely important for 21st century learners and for students that will hopefully one day be able to compete in a global world market from wherever, whatever part of the world they live in.
So, while there are tremendous benefits to global collaboration, it does not come without its set of unique challenges.  It is critical to plan out in detail how communication will occur throughout the process both synchronously and asynchronously (Lindsay & Davis, 2012).  I've learned that even with detailed planning prior to the actual collaboration, it's important to be flexible throughout the process as plans may need to be adjusted.  
While challenging, global collaboration yields tremendous benefits.  The global aspect provided opportunities for their students’ views to be expanded while the computer science aspect of it afforded them the opportunity to create with technology and express themselves in a unique way while sharing and communicating their ideas with a global student partner.


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