Maryland school district showcases computer science education at all levels
To visit the Charles County Public Schools in southern Maryland, about an hour outside of Washington, D.C., is to get a sense of what computer science education may look like nationwide in the near future.
Computer science education is expanding throughout the U.S., but fewer than one-quarter of U.S. high schools currently offer a computer science course with programming, and such classes are even less common in middle and elementary schools.
Several years ago, administrators at the Charles County Public Schools (CCPS) decided to begin expanding their computer science offerings and committed to bringing computer science education to all kindergarten through 12th grade students in its school district.
"Charles County Public Schools has been a leader in providing STEM education for its students," said Kimberly Hill, CCPS superintendent. "In 2013, we began to ask ourselves, what's next in STEM education? And the answer for us was computer science. Since 2013, we have infused computational thinking skills into our curriculum. These skills prepare students for success across the curriculum and throughout their lives as 21st century learners."
Their goals were to broaden participation in computer science through multiple, high-quality experiences, increase the number and diversity of students choosing to study advanced STEM programs, and establish an exemplary systemic model for teaching and learning of computer science.
To a large extent they've succeeded. But they didn't do it alone.
They had help, including from the National Science Foundation (NSF), which for the last decade has been funding the development of resources, curricula and professional development that enable schools to teach computer science using well-researched methods.
"We look for NSF materials because we can rely on them to be high quality and engaging," Hill said. "The materials are hands-on and make real-world connections which results in student engagement and motivation."
Charles County also received assistance from code.org, a nonprofit dedicated to increasing participation in computer science by women and underrepresented students of color, which has provided ongoing teacher professional development to assure quality instruction.
"We are committed to providing equity for our students, and infusing computational thinking skills starting in kindergarten helps to level the playing field for all students," Hill said. "Great instruction is like a safety net for students who might otherwise 'fall through the cracks,' and we believe that engaging students in computer science education is one part of that safety net for our students."
CCPS doesn't simply offer a single class or experience to their students; they offer a wealth of options that teach computational thinking and computer programming. They also use computer science as a way of engaging students in math, science and creative arts.
In May 2016, leaders from NSF visited North Point High School in Waldorf, Maryland, part of the Charles County Public School system, to get a glimpse of the variety of computer science classes and projects that students in the district experience. (Watch a video to see Charles County computer science learning in action.)
"It's clear how fully integrated computing and computational thinking are in the curriculum here," said Jim Kurose, assistant director of NSF's Directorate for Computing and Information Technology and Engineering. "Teachers and administrators are making opportunities for students to study computer science in all kinds of ways. I, and the people I traveled here with, were saying we wish we had this when we were in school."
Below is a list of NSF-supported resources used by Charles County Public Schools at the high school, middle school and elementary school levels, compiled by teachers and administrators there.
NSF influences in high schools
Exploring Computer Science (ECS) and AP Computer Science Principles (AP CSP) are offered at every high school. Implementation of these courses has completely altered the landscape of high school computer science education by emphasizing cross-curricular connections, collaborative work, the impact of computing, and intentionally broadening the appeal to a diverse group of students.
CS10K Community has provided a platform in which teachers post questions, join discussions and locate resources to support the ECS and AP CSP curriculum.
CS Matters in Maryland curriculum and professional development for AP CSP are used by CCPS teachers. It provides an engaging, rigorous, carefully aligned curriculum developed by teachers for teachers.
Earsketch lessons connecting computer science to sound and music are used in the AP CSP classes as part of the programming and performance tasks.
Tapestry workshops are a foundational resource that provide a basis for collaboration, analysis and goal setting. These workshops emphasize collaboration and teaching to a diverse population.
Access CS10K has proven a vital resource for collaboration on strategies to make ECS classrooms more inclusive and attractive to underrepresented populations.
NSF influences in middle schools
Bootstrap and Code CS in Algebra materials are integrated at the middle school level to demonstrate how computer science and math combine to make video games work.
Growing UP Thinking Scientifically (GUTS) curriculum is also integrated into the middle school curriculum. With Irene Lee, they determined alignment and pacing for grades 6, 7 and 8 sciences. As curriculum is updated, computational thinking modules are incorporated, including modeling and simulation at all grade levels.
Middle Years Computer Science (MyCS) curriculum from Harvey Mudd College was developed with the goal that every middle-years student should be able to confidently say "CS is something people like me can do." MyCS curriculum has provided excellent resources that are piloting this year and next to modernize middle school computer classes to include computational thinking.
Expanding Computer Education Pathways (ECEP) provided grant funding for summer camp computer programs. CCPS's facilitators participate in their Train-the-Trainer webinars to design and plan an effective workshop, build an educator community, increase diversity in Computer Science and teach Computer Science content knowledge. ECEP also funded the Maryland Computer Science Summit in a joint effort with Maryland State Department of Education to bring over 200 attendees from every county in Maryland to share and set priorities for Computer Science education.
National Science Foundation influences in elementary schools
ScratchEd is an important partner in exploring ways to use Scratch as an open-ended tool for storytelling, mathematical reasoning, and the creative design process. CCPS held its first Southern Maryland Scratch "Meetup" in March 2016 with great success, taking another step toward building a teacher community and support system.
Investigating Conceptual Foundations for a Transdisciplinary Model Integrating Computer Science into the Elementary STEM Curriculum has offered advice on which projects in the Problem Based Learning (PBL) integrated Computer Science and STEM modules are appropriate for specific grade levels.
Learning Trajectories for Integrating K-5 Computer Science and Mathematics provided integrated mathematics and computational thinking lessons and activities. CCPS is working to develop ways to support implementation of these resources with a focus on broader participation.
Developing Elementary (Learning) Progressions to Integrate Computational Thinking investigates how computational thinking skills can be developed over time while supporting education in the existing curriculum. CCPS has reviewed and is planning to pilot some digital storytelling materials at the upper elementary level.
To find out more about these programs or to bring them to your school, visit NSF's CS for All Special Report.