Active Play is Key to Computer Science for All
Hawaii's journey to roll out coding to 100% of public elementary students by 2025
While 67% of new STEM jobs are in computing, only 11% of STEM bachelor’s degrees are in CS, highlighting a need to prepare students for the modern workforce that demands CS skills.
According to an Unruly Studios survey, the top challenges of incorporating computer science are need for PD resources, lack of time, and teacher readines
Research shows that young learners who study computer science are 17% more likely to attend college and perform better in other subjects.
It is no secret that computer science is becoming an increasingly important part of elementary education across the US–and with good reason. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, 67% of new STEM jobs are in computing but only 11% of STEM bachelor’s degrees are in computer science (CS). This highlights a growing need to prepare students for the modern workforce that demands CS skills and knowledge.
In an effort to address this need, 39 states have adopted K-12 CS standards, including Hawaii. Like many other districts throughout the United States, the Hawaii State Department of Education (HIDOE) is now tasked with the important and challenging mission of providing equal access to high-quality CS education for all K-12 students.
For Hawaii, adopting the national Computer Science Teachers Association’s (CSTA) K-12 Computer Science Standards in 2018 was the first step in a long-term plan to provide all students access to CS education as well as provide training to all educators. Using a scaled approach that will roll out CS resources to schools over the next three years, their ultimate goal is for all public schools to offer at least one computer science course by 2025.
With efforts to meet this goal underway, the HIDOE knows that the journey will not be without obstacles. According to Unruly Studios’ survey of nearly 1000 principals across the US, the top challenges of incorporating computer science are: need for PD resources, lack of time, and teacher readiness.
TO FACE THESE CHALLENGES HEAD ON, THE HIDOE NEEDED A SOLUTION THAT MET A FEW KEY CRITERIA:
1) Must be equitable for all students, starting in elementary
2) Must be incorporated across schools in existing subjects
3) Must be low barrier to entry for teachers without coding experience
4) Must include PD and training for educators
“ELEMENTARY LEVELS THE PLAYING FIELD—YOU SEE MORE OF A 50/50 SPLIT IN STUDENT INTEREST.” — GRANT TOYOOKA
Why introduce coding in elementary school? Early exposure to CS programs has well-known benefits, such as lucrative job opportunities in the future and closing gender and diversity gaps in computer science. Research shows that young learners who study computer science are 17% more likely to attend college and perform better in other subjects.
As part of their CS action plan, the HIDOE formed a Work Group that includes representatives from various areas of expertise (schools, higher ed, non-profits, and industry partners) to ensure that equity and diversity are at the forefront of their plan.
Additionally, the HIDOE is focusing on introducing CS to students as young as kindergarten. Knowing that all Hawaii schools may not have access to CS teachers or tech integration specialists to lead this rollout presents an added challenge of finding platforms that are user-friendly and engaging for students.
FINDING A SUSTAINABLE AND DYNAMIC SOLUTION
When searching for CS resources, Grant Toyooka—a resource coordinator for Hawaii DOE Central District—wanted a solution that would be fun, emboldening, cross-curricular, and approachable to teachers and students of all experience levels. Seeing that Unruly Splats brought together “STEM integration with SEL and PE” and had “everything that kids are really attracted to,” he felt confident that both teachers and students would take to Splats quickly. The first two rollouts of Splats at Solomon Elementary and Wheeler Elementary validated this feeling for him.
From a teacher perspective, Michael Fricano II—a K-6 tech integration specialist at 'Iolani School—appreciates the value of having a new modality of instruction for his students. Splats allowed a “connection between movement and coding” that he had not seen before, while also providing students with an opportunity to “see their code put into use right away” in a new way that got them out of their seats!
MEETING TEACHERS WHERE THEY’RE AT
The best-laid plans still require flexibility and buy-in. That’s why a key part of Hawaii’s CS action plan includes finding what professional development is needed for all educators.
Knowing that teachers are “interested but also leary” and not all schools will have a tech specialist available on-site, Grant sought out a resource that would provide access to 1:1 support to combat these struggles.
At Solomon Elementary, this meant starting their Splats rollout with Melanie Zukeran, a first grade teacher who was new to CS. She utilized pre-built Splats games to expose her students to coding while incorporating other core content areas. For Michael, his rollout began with the in-app tutorials to get a better understanding of what the Splats could do and how to introduce a new block-coding tool to his students.
Whether working with a coding novice or seasoned vet, dedicated School Success Managers at Unruly prioritize teacher readiness and confidence above all else. For Grant, the Unruly team “makes things easy” by providing onboarding support, teacher training, and community building events as part of a school’s membership.
“CS NEEDS TO HAVE ITS PLACE IN EDUCATION JUST LIKE ANY OTHER TOPIC. OUR KIDS ARE LIVING WITH IT EVERY DAY AND THEY NEED HELP UNDERSTANDING ITS SIGNIFICANCE AND HOW IT BENEFITS THEIR LIVES. THEY NEED TO KNOW THE CONSEQUENCES—THE POSITIVES AND NEGATIVE IMPACTS OF TECHNOLOGY—AND TEACHING THEM CS HELPS THEM IN THIS UNDERSTANDING.” — MICHAEL FRICANO II
In addition to support from the Unruly team, Hawaii schools noticed that having multiple teachers in a school consistently using Splats creates a culture where educators can build community and call on each other for troubleshooting or coding help.
For Grant, Splats have “helped demystify CS for teachers because you have a nice progression from what’s seen on the screen to what’s actually happening with the Splat.” This makes it so that the school expert on CS doesn’t have to be a designated IT professional or CS teacher: it can be the PE teachers, paraprofessionals, or any educator regularly using Splats in their classroom.
In Michael’s school where subjects are typically taught in silos, Splats have started to open the doors to conversations about teaching CS cross-curricularly. These conversations help build buy-in from other non-CS teachers and create a community of Unruly educators in individual schools.
SO WHAT’S NEXT?
At first glance, the idea of implementing any new educational initiative can feel overwhelming, almost like there’s no perfect time to start. However, with the right tools, on-going support, and an understanding that it will take time–a feeling echoed by both Grant and Michael–it is not only possible but imperative.
In Hawaii, Grant will continue focusing on building teacher confidence with CS while also helping other schools within the district start the process of bringing Splats to their campuses. With forward thinking educators and an approachable, engaging CS education tool in hand, Hawaii is on the right track to making sure its students are ready for the future.