Collaborating Across Districts to Integrate Computer Science into K-8

Submitted by Josh Young, Educational Technology Coordinator, Mount Desert Island Regional School System – AOS 91

This past week the Mount Desert Island School district (AOS 91) hosted teams from Dexter (AOS 94) and Bethel (SAD44) to continue conversations about what the integration of computer science could look like in rural Maine districts.  This initiative, Integrate-2-Innovate (i2i), is facilitated by the Maine Math and Science Alliance (MMSA) and the Education Development Center (EDC) and funded by the National Science Foundation’s Computer Science for All program.

The 30 educators included Kindergarten, 4th grade teachers, middle school science and math teachers, principals, and curriculum coordinators.  They started the day exploring the practices of computer science, math, and science and commonalities between them.  To try and understand how these practices already exist in classrooms, we spent the afternoon observing seven classrooms throughout the MDI district.  MDI - Computer ScienceIn visiting our colleague’s classrooms, we wanted to understand the dynamics and context of this district/classroom; understand how math and science are generally taught in this district/classroom; envision how computer science might integrate into an activity like the one we are observing; and, of course, build the capacity, trust, and relationships between our districts as we learn together.

We observed 7th and 8th graders working on engineering a design challenge for building a bridge, a number taught in a 4th grade classroom where kids were trying to solve a problem using modelling, algorithmic and procedural thinking, and much more.

As we all gathered back together after the classroom observations, we heard from local businesses about how computer science is used in their organizations, which gave us some real-world, relatable examples of computer science to share with our students and communities.  Educate Maine and MMSA worked with the MDI school district to arrange for presentations from the MDI - Computer Science2Jackson Lab and Acadia National Park about how Computer Science fits into their work, the kinds of CS jobs available locally at all levels from right out of high school to PhDs, and what these professionals think students  need to be successful in Maine’s workforce.  These employers were very clear that learning how to work as a team to problem solve and deconstruct problems is extremely important. When current coding experts were asked what to teach kids they said, Don’t teach them to code in specific languages too early, instead support them in how to think about data – how data are structured, classified, categorized – introduce basic statistical concepts early. The coding languages we have now could be totally different than what we will have 10 years from now.

As we begin to unpack what computer science can really look like at the K-8 level and how it can fit into our existing learning standards, we are building on our shared experience and the expertise we all have as teacher leaders in rural districts.  We are excited about the recent advances the Maine Department of Education and the legislature have recently taken to advance computer science and we hope that this is just the beginning of a concerted statewide reform to provide equitable access to computer science learning opportunities to all students K-12.