Providing Access, Equity, and Empowerment for All Students Through Computer Science

Providing Access, Equity, and Empowerment for All Students Through Computer Science

by: Michelle Swensson, ITI Instructional Technology Facilitator

Carson Students Carson Street STEAM Academy is ensuring all students are college and career ready by providing instruction that integrates 21st-century skills, including Computer Science (CS). Carson Street, a Title 1 and an ITI Practitioner School, has made substantial gains in test scores and attendance rates have risen dramatically since teachers have started intentionally integrating digital tools in their core content instruction. Carson Street placed 1st in ELA SBAC scores among the eighteen elementary schools in Local District South. As a Practitioner School, Carson Street believes that integrating sound teaching with educational technology, the collaborative effort of innovative teachers, and the support of the school’s leadership team has had a great impact in making these achievements.

Carson Student A plan to create a CS pathway was developed to provide all students regardless of their socioeconomic level, their racial background, or their gender to have access to CS. This meant that CS needed to be offered during the school's instructional day so that it is not only for a select group of students but for all Carson Street STEAM Academy students. All students need to have the same opportunities to be ready for the jobs of tomorrow. With limited funding and resources, the leadership team collaborated to create an action plan that took into account the limitations, challenges, and strengths of the school to build a pathway that would be sustainable for Carson Street STEAM Academy.

The first step that the school’s instructional leadership team embarked on was to develop a vision for what 21st Carson's Teachers Century teaching and learning might look like at Carson. The team collaborated with the Instructional Technology Initiative (ITI) to develop their personalized instructional technology plan grounded on the ISTE Standards as well as models of change management and personalized learning. Carson Street worked with community partners such as technology companies that supported their vision to create a CS pathway by funding additional laptop carts. Professional learning support offered by ITI through the Computer Science Professional Learning Catalog, as well as professional development and coaching support offered by an Instructional Technology Facilitator assigned at Carson for two years now, enabled teachers to teach CS concepts including but not limited to block and language-based programming, physical computing, and robotics. Through these lessons, students were organically engaged in problem-solving, collaboration with peers, and analytical thinking. The second step was to create a CS Build and Overview that would allow teachers with little or no background in CS to teach and facilitate these classes. Free CS curriculum that had teachers take on the role of facilitators and students take on ownership of their learning by learning at their pace was possible for every grade level using the online resources from non-profit organizations such as Code.org, which the District is in partnership with to serve as a Regional Hub for CS. The third step was to create a space where CS instruction takes place. This space, Carson Street’s Innovation Lab, was a former classroom that was redesigned to accommodate for students group work in learning and creating based on their interests and needs. In this space, students are able to meet with their peers to develop original and innovative projects and share their new learnings with their peers and community.

Carson's Teacher Once these systems were in place, Carson Street began by empowering the teachers first. Teachers were given time to learn and collaborate around CS. Teachers had data-driven, personalized professional development where they were able to choose which station they would participate and learn about CS concepts.  They worked with their grade level groups or decided to work independently to gain more CS awareness. By giving teachers time to explore and play with block-based programming, physical computing, and other digital resources, the teachers’ affective filter were lowered and led to greater buy-in about teaching the students about CS.

Carson Student Presenting his Code The decision to start with empowering the teachers led to teachers who were enthusiastic about signing up to come into the Innovation Lab for eight-week rotation cycles with the Instructional Technology Facilitator to have students engage in learning opportunities in CS. Students are now using the Innovation Lab to design, create, and share their block-based programming and physical computing artifacts with their community both locally and globally. The commitment to providing all Carson Street students access, equity, and empowerment to 21st-century education, particularly CS, is how Carson Street STEAM Academy will equip all Carson Street students with the necessary skills  to be ready for their future. Through the collaborative effort of all stakeholders at Carson Street STEAM Academy, our commitment is to provide CS instruction for all students so that by the time they attend secondary schools, they all have been introduced to CS.