By Dr. Megan Nickels

The need for teaching computer science and coding in K-12 classrooms has become a national priority. Subsequently, many teachers are now faced with preparing themselves to teach a subject for which they may have little or no experience.

Naturally, this begs the question:

How do we prepare teachers to teach computer science? And, how do school leaders support teachers in taking the risks associated with incorporating this new discipline into their classrooms?

Generally speaking, I think we are most effective as teachers when we adopt a philosophy of teaching which views the teacher as an expert learner as opposed to the transmittal philosophy of teaching wherein “all-knowing” teachers deposit their knowledge into the minds of students.

Teachers who model and embody the ideals of an expert learner help students learn to strategize and persevere in constructing their own rich, contextualized knowings. While this philosophy of teaching is certainly applicable to each academic discipline (e.g., mathematics, science, language arts), it is especially significant in regards to K-12 computer science education, where there should be no expectation that all (or any) teachers begin as proficient coders.

Just Begin: Learn to Code by Coding

And for the bold and the zealous, learn right alongside your students. There are many wonderful sites and applications at no cost available to help you as you hone your skills such as Code.org and MIT’s Scratch. If you are one of the growing legions of teachers and schools using Wonder Workshop’s Dash and Dot robots, learning to code is quite simply embedded in play through the various puzzles and free play opportunities found in their suite of five apps.

The bulk of what teachers need to know in order to teach computer science (whether teaching computer science entails computational thinking, logic, programming or computer science in the truest sense of the word) is already in their arsenal. It amounts to best pedagogical practices in setting expectations, curriculum planning, pacing and assessment. Here too, teachers will find an abundance of high-quality materials, each readily available on the web.

In support of risk taking, school leaders and administrators should work hard to establish a culture of experiential learning where teachers and students alike feel safe in trying new things and ultimately, safe in making mistakes. We learn from our mistakes, and mistakes will be certain in any computer science endeavor. School leaders should also be tasked with helping teachers locate computer science resources beyond those made freely available and provide quality professional development related to computer science.

Next Steps for Teachers and School Leaders

To start locally, seek out computer science educators and researchers from your nearby universities and/or private sector companies. It is often the case these individuals are very willing to assist in creating computer science and computational thinking experiences for K-12 students. They may even bring the added benefit of external funding to the table.

School leaders, help enable your teachers to make the jump to computer science by taking advantage of the host of professional learning communities and organizations available nationally, such as:

Whatever your entry point into teaching computer science or supporting teachers to teach computer science, my advice is plain-spoken: Just begin.

For more, see:

Dr. Megan Nickels is an Assistant Professor of Mathematics Education at the University of Central FloridaFollow her on Twitter: @megannickels.


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