Cultivating Agents of Change in L.A. Unified Through Computer Science

Cultivating Agents of Change in L.A. Unified Through Computer Science

By Sophia Mendoza, Instructional Technology Initiative Director

EdSurge-PresentationAs L.A. Unified once again observes and celebrates Computer Science Education Week this December 9-13th, I invite you, our readers, to pause and reflect back on your first experience with technology as a learner.

For me, it was the Radio Shack TRS-80. In the 3rd grade, my teacher brought a Radio Shack TRS-80 into the classroom and I was hooked. I enjoyed creating loops where I would type in 10 Print Quotes and RUN. This experience allowed me to be a creator. I went on to build my own games where I would save them to my 5 1/4 inch floppy disk for my classmates to play.

I grew up in the neighborhood of Pacoima which is in the east San Fernando Valley, the northernmost part of LA Unified’s vast 720 square miles and I am very proud to say that I am homegrown L.A. Unified, having attended its PreK-12 schools, which currently total 1,322. I like to say that my mom dropped me off in kindergarten and she has yet to pick me up from school.

Having been educated within the system, I now lead the system in innovating promising Edtech practices through professional learning for its 2,500 administrators and 25,000 teachers that in turn impact the educational and life experiences of the almost 700,000 students that we serve.

Little by little our students are beginning to see themselves in the educators that stand before them in the classroom. As you can see we still have a long way to go. When students have educators who look like them and with shared life experience it brings a much deeper personal relevance and meaning to the classroom experience.

EdSurge-1 As I look back at my own experiences as a student. I clearly remember that those who looked like me or who had similar backgrounds were those who made sure that I had a meal to eat during the school day and the Senoras who so lovingly watched over me on the playground during recess, lunch and afterschool, but not my teachers or principals.

And now as I look forward at my charge in LA Unified as the Director of the Instructional Technology Initiative, it is imperative that our students see leaders like themselves doing this work. And beyond representation, my charge is to build equity by providing access and creating opportunities for students to engage in meaningful, relevant and rigorous learning experiences.

These learning experiences all lead with instruction for both adult and student learners. Transformation of teaching and learning cannot be done alone, and we use the ISTE Standards and ADKAR Change Management frameworks to inform and guide our work in cultivating change agents among our educational leaders.

LA Unified began collaborating with ISTE and aligning shared ideals around leading with instruction, personalized learning and equity in 2016 with the refresh of the Standards for Students, making LA Unified the first district in the world to adopt the standards. The ISTE Standards give us the vocabulary we need to move forward and helps us put a name to the process of the instructional transformation we are pursuing.

Similarly, we understand how important it is to offer various models of support along a continuum to meet learners where they are, and this is where the ADKAR Change Management model frames our work in designing various models of support, ensuring that teachers and leaders have multiple entry points throughout the school year to refine their practice.

These frameworks allow for an intentional and strategic implementation of our three key content initiatives: the ISTE Standards, Digital Citizenship, and Computer Science Education.  Cultivating change agents around this work has global implications and our Board of Education recognized that Computer Science or CS is about innovative designing, creating tools and resources that can critically impact our lives. Last year, our Board of Education unanimously approved and passed a resolution to expand computer science education to include our youngest learners. This resolution highlights L.A. Unified’s commitment to providing computer science education for ALL students by 2025.

By advocating for policy changes in an area of education that directly connects to the immediate lives and future careers of our students such as computer science, we create opportunities to cultivate change agents.

EdSurge Two years ago when I analyzed the data around students participating in AP Computer Science I found overwhelmingly that White and Asian males were the predominant demographic group participating. It just did not seem right to me that in a District where 73% of our students are Latino and 8% are African American there was very minimal participation in AP Computer Science. I took it a step further and examined the demographics of the high tech sector and discovered that our LA Unified AP CS participation was mimicking that of the tech sector.

Information released last month by CSforCA shows that African American, Latino, and Native American professionals are vastly underrepresented in tech fields, representing only 8 percent of the Silicon Valley tech workforce and 15 percent of the national computing workforce. Less than 30 percent are women, and less than 2 percent are women of color. There is little to no racial or gender diversity in the creation of new technologies, business ventures, or in investment, limiting our innovation potential.

At the core of our CS expansion is the lens of equity, access, and opportunity. We cannot begin to change who is represented in the field of computing if we do not focus on who participates in computer science education in our PreK-12 classrooms. In LA Unified, this is the enormous task that we have before us: to have our Latino and African American students equipped with the belief systems and skills set to know that they too can participate in Computer Science education.

EdSurge This also transcends into our work around shifting the hearts and minds of our educators who also do not see themselves as computer science educators, by providing professional learning in computational thinking and computer science concepts, in a multi-disciplinary approach during the instructional school day.

We want our students to believe they can do the work, which is a result of empowering our educators with CS education. We definitely have our call to action in LA Unified:  how can we together as a community facilitate CS education with the lens of equity, access, and opportunity.

Crucial to shifting mindsets of our teachers is the empowering of education leaders, principals and administrators across LA Unified to lead this CS expansion. In order for our students and teachers to become change agents, they need to see their leaders as a living embodiment of change. A lot of teachers think they can’t teach CS and they don’t see themselves as empowered CS leaders. Educators need to believe in themselves so they can empower their students. We are empowering the adults by having them tinker with algorithmic problem solving as well as hands-on application of basic CS concepts.
As we collaborate with leaders in LA Unified, we invite them to be learners in fun interactive ways, like Principal Braley of Coldwater Elementary School engaging in unplugged coding through’s dance party. Other options include having principals during the Elementary Principals’ Organization Meeting make connections between daily student routines such as playground games.

Principal Braley Principal Cynthia Braley at last year’s Computer Science Education

Weekevent at Coldwater Canyon Elementary School

The key takeaways of the experience are to lead with instruction through ISTE Standards-based professional development. With the ISTE Education Leader Standards, you, too, can leverage digital tools and resources to not only accelerate student learning but also cultivate innovative practices among school and district leadership so they are empowered to enact consistent system-wide change.

Overall, the work of cultivating agents of change is personal for me. I have two small children who are also L.A. Unified students and at the turn of the next century, they will be in their 80’s. I live with the urgency every day knowing that my current efforts are going to impact the next three generations of CHANGE AGENTS to come.