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C'est la Z

Computational Thinking in Primary Grades

Last week I spent a couple of days as part of a team running professional development for a group of pre and in service elementary school teachers. Two days talking about computational thinking.

Wait a minute - elementary school teachers? I'm a high school guy pretending to be a college guy. My extensive experience with elementary school education is that I raised two kids and I don't think I messed them up too much. I don't know anything about elementary education!!!!

How'd I ever get myself into this???

About a year ago my friend Diane Levitt was encouraging me to apply for a grant to explore computational thinking in elementary schools with the Robin Hood Foundation. I was hesitant since elementary school is not my bag but since I also knew some of the Robin Hood players I figured let's see where things go.

At the same time, coincidentally, I started talking to Aman Yadav. I had followed Aman online for a number of years and was hoping to find an opportunity to meet him somewhere down the line. Long story short, the two of us decide to apply to for the Robin Hood Foundation grant together. I felt much more comfortable than going solo since Aman had already done some great CT work with Detroit teachers.

As it turns out, in spite of my insistence of not knowing primary ed, Robin Hood decided to support our efforts. Last week, Aman and I, joined by Sarah Vogel who has also done some good work with CT in primary grades and Phil Sands who is currently doing grad work with Aman we ran two days of PD for 10 pre service and 10 in service teachers. It was a mix of activities to explore concepts such as debugging, decomposition, abstraction, and brainstorming on how the teachers could bring these concepts to their classrooms in support of core academic areas.

Towards the end, I was sitting in on one group of teachers energetically discussing how they could share what they learned with their school. I then moved to another group where they were discussing how core ideas from our exercises could be adapted to support teaching writing. Really inspiring.

Aman and I will be getting together with the pre and in service teachers again in late August with the plan of developing concrete lessons that both draw out CT concepts and support core subjects. I'm not sure if Phil will be able to come out to join us but he'll be involved in the project for the long haul. We're hoping Sara can also be as involved moving forward but Sara's very much in demand and very busy so here's hoping that her schedule permits it.

In the end the plan is to make everything the teachers develop available to the greater CS Education community but we're going for a bigger win. If all of this works, the plan is to get some of these practices into Hunter's required pre-service classes. Given the number of teachers we prepare at Hunter, that could really move the needle.

Working with elementary school teachers is new to me and I'm having fun with all of this. Super appreciative to have partners like the Robin Hood Foundation, Aman, Sara, and Phil as well as the teachers who took time out of their summers to come down to Hunter and work on this with us.

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