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Bringing Computer Science to Savannah's Classrooms

Recognizing that computer science education was not widely available in most K-12 classrooms, Code.org was founded in 2013. The international organization set out to better engage students and equip them with skills needed by nearly everyone entering the job market in the 21st century, regardless of career path. To accomplish this, Code.org created and now freely provides an impressive range of computer science curriculum, which can be used to give students a strong base in computer science fundamentals.

To implement that curriculum and help students develop a firm grasp on the material, Code.org relies on two things – well-versed teachers and regional partner entities that can provide those educators with training opportunities. In Georgia, Code.org’s partner for training is Georgia Tech’s Center for Education Integrating Science, Mathematics, and Computing (CEISMC), which is represented at the local level through Georgia Tech-Savannah. Additionally, given that most educators do not have a computer science background, the training is designed not only to help bring the lessons back to their students in a meaningful way, but also a chance to learn it themselves.

Let's Go Virtual

CEISMC and Georgia Tech-Savannah have been providing Code.org’s computer science fundamentals professional development training, which is for K-5 teachers, for the past two years. Thanks to funding support from Code.org, teachers who wanted to participate have been able to enjoy the one- or two-day workshops while paying little to nothing out of pocket. However, when COVID-19 pushed all programs online, there was uncertainty if the trainings would meet their minimum registrations, a requirement to receive funding. In preparation, they created a virtual format that still provided a high-quality experience while allowing teachers the flexibility needed to adjust to new scheduling demands and educational platforms.

“Thankfully, we were able to create some virtual workshops by being conscious of what’s happening in the Savannah area with teachers and considering when they might be most available. They have a lot on their plates, so we wanted to make this as user-friendly of an experience as possible without putting additional burdens on educators and making them feel like this is just one more thing they need to do,” said Georgia Tech-Savannah's CEISMC Program Director Timothy Cone. “Instead it’s fun, it’s supplemental, it’s meaningful for everyone involved.”

The virtual approach utilized by CEISMC and Georgia Tech-Savannah proved successful when registration opened for the first online course, held Oct. 28, and it filled up in less than 24 hours. Bolstered by their initial success, a second workshop was scheduled for Nov. 4, and that one filled up as well.

“We were so happy with the outcome, not only the fact that both workshops filled up – because it is certainly good to offer something and see a positive response – but also because we were seeing positive and encouraging trends,” said Cone. “We were getting teams of teachers from the same schools signing up for these workshops, and we know that helps when educators are trying to implement curriculum like this at schools. You do not want a teacher alone in a ‘silo,’ trying to handle the introduction of this material all by themselves. It is great when they have support from co-workers. We had 20 teachers from one school, and other schools – predominantly in the Chatham County area – who registered four or five teachers each.” Over 50 local teachers were trained between the two sessions.

Seizing the Momentum

As Cone pointed out, one of the great things about the workshops is that they are only one or two days long but that is also the downside. While convenient for timing, the format does pack a lot of information into a short period of time. The CEISMC team saw this as an opportunity to explore a partnership approach. This provides schools and teachers with more opportunity to create real change in their classrooms and better opportunities for student learning.

To test this, they are currently working with a small cohort of teachers in a three-week extension program that began on Nov. 18 and will end on Dec. 9. The format gives teachers extended opportunities to engage with their peers and instructors while remaining flexible to cater towards everyone’s unique schedules. While everything will still be virtual, a combination of live sessions and the utilization of online instructional software gives teachers an avenue to ask questions, explore ideas, and receive feedback. Instructors will provide project-based challenges and concepts to try out throughout the three-week course, so participants have a more in depth understanding of what the content looks like in their classroom.

Celebrating CSEdWeek

The timing of the extended course works out well, as Dec. 7-11 happens to be International Computer Science Education week, an annual program dedicated to inspiring K-12 students to take interest in computer science. CSEdWeek is supported by 350 partners and 100,000 educators worldwide, according to csedweek.org. As part of the initiative, children across the world are encouraged to try just one hour of computer science or coding activities during that week.

“Our three-week blended program ends in the middle of CSEdWeek, so we’re going to use that as an opportunity to celebrate the teachers who are participating,” Cone said. “But it’s not just about what one individual teacher comes up with; it’s about having access to all their cohorts’ projects, the ability to discuss ideas, their experiences, and what they take back to their classrooms. We want program participants to have those additional resources so that we can support teachers and local schools long into the future.”

CEISMC will be offering additional professional development opportunities in 2021.

For more information on CEISMC at Georgia Tech Savannah, please visit ceismc.gatech.edu/savannah.