Today we had guest speakers Mary Davison and Andy Davidson from the Seattle Public School District come in to talk about their experiences of getting Computer Science into the school curriculum. Mary Davison is the head of the Seattle Public Schools Current Technological Education(CTE) curriculum and has worked for 4 years now on this program. Computer Science has been classified into the CTE curriculum, because it doesn’t fit with any other fields currently. However, as we discussed in class, we could incorporate Computer Science into a variety of other fields such as Math or Science . The small curriculum that started from Ingraham and Chief Stealth, has spread to 5 schools including:
- Ingraham(still going strong)
- Garfield(where Helene previously taught)
- Roosevelt(where our other guest speaker, Andy Davidson, teaches)
- Nathan Hale(where they have the “robotics” lab in science class using Lego Mindstorms and other CS courses)
- Cleveland(where they recently changed into a Biotech/Engineering school)
The CTE curriculum is also used in Eckstein Middle School and is planning to be added to the Ballard High School curriculum in the coming year.
Our guest speakers also touched on many of the difficulties that occur when trying to add a new curriculum to a school. The most important part is the principal, the change to the school curriculum will depend on if the principal is willing to embrace it or not. Several rules can be made from higher authority, but the principals of each school have the final say on how these rules will be implemented and taught to the students. Volunteers like ourselves can help students get exposure to potential role models but as teacher Andy Davidson pointed out: “The only way you can really make an impact on the students is if you’re there with them everyday, not one hour a week.” This way you can do both parts of teaching:
- half on inspiring learning and getting students to love the material (role model)
- other half on teaching the concepts and topics that interest the students
Goals for Computer Science education and the Seattle Public Schools in the future are to get the CTE curriculum into all their high schools and middle schools and make sure that all students are “career and college ready”.
This week, we wrapped up our discussion from last week on introductory programming languages (Scratch, WeScheme, Boostrap, etc.) and I brought in one of the many ideas that people in the K-12 community have to get younger kids into the realm of Computer Science: Lego Mindstorms. Above is the programming environment for the Lego Mindstorms robot and is very similar to the environment that we see in Scratch, with its drag-and-drop menus. I believe that this makes it easier for people who are just learning to program to have something physical that can respond to the movements that you program it to do. This program is one of the original step-by-step programs that the default system can walk first-time users through and even allow a sample program to be downloaded to the NXT(motherboard) so users can see the robot’s reaction to the given movements first-hand.
Another perk about the Lego Mindstorms approach to introduce students into computer science is that the robot-building and programming are separated into different difficulty levels for the user to choose. This makes it easier for teachers to teach this material to students and to allow the students to go at their own pace. Those who have more experience with programming and building can go ahead to the higher level challenges while other students can start at the beginning, all at their own pace. In my high school science class, we used these Lego Mindstorms as a “robotics” lab where students would be split into several teams and have a 3-week period to create a robot that pushed empty film canisters into a marked boundary. This created a competitive atmosphere where each team wanted to do better than the rest, which allowed creative designs and programs that would grab the most film canisters as possible. I believe this same technique could be used throughout all the Seattle Public Schools and that instead of trying to implement a brand new course throughout all schools, we should start small and have a “robotics” lab in all science courses to give students a feel to Computer Science. Once students are interested in the field, we can then push to get Computer Science teachers in every school so that students can pursue their interests and…if they aren’t interested in Computer Science, at least they have some experience with it and know what it is.