Update (12/12/14): Laura Frazier of The Oregonian filed this story on Hour of Code events in Portland, linking to this post. Thanks Laura!
This week, students worldwide are taking part in the second annual Hour of Code campaign, an initiative of the Seattle-based non-profit Code.org. The goal, organizers say, is to make computer science available in more schools, and expand opportunities in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) studies, particularly among female students and underrepresented students of color.
The organization has awarded $10,000 grants to schools across the country who have committed to providing an hour of coding instruction to each student this week, recognizing the schools’ efforts to embed technology into the curriculum.
A full map of winners across the country. Credit: codeorg.tumblr.com
Portland, Oregon’s Sabin K8 school was one of the grant recipients. Claudia Tautfest, the school’s IB coordinator, agreed to answer my questions about tech education in schools.
CC: Can you give us an overview of technology education at Sabin?*
CT: At Sabin, Technology, or more specifically, Design Technology, is one of the “specials” that students in grades 3-8 attend. In the early grades students learn keyboarding skills, create documents using Microsoft Word and Publisher and presentations using PowerPoint. They also manipulate and chart data using Excel. During this time of the academic year we begin to investigate some of the skills used to create code. We participate in Hour of Code and then expand our knowledge using programs such as Scratch tutorials available at Khan Academy and Code Academy. Older students in grades 6-8 will be introduced to html, Simple Basic and Java. Because we are an International Baccalaureate school we help students understand the design process and create projects following a specific design protocol.
During Design Tech class we take the time with the 8th graders to collaborate with the school’s counselor to investigate and present information about Portland area high schools and then in the spring we research different career options.
Outside of the Design Tech class, technology is used for content presentations (projectors and document cameras), project research, writing and math skills, map skills using Google Earth and investigating “how to’s” using YouTube tutorials. Our teachers connect students to a variety of Internet tools they can use at home to reinforce their skills. For example teachers and parents can monitor student math skills using our school’s subscription to IXL.
Another way technology is important for our students, is its use in assisting students with special needs. Technology provides support for writing, listening and visual learning.
Parents are involved in several ways. Some volunteer to teach classes after school as part of our SUN program, others come into the classroom and assist teachers when they are using the iPads. Many parents support us through their participation in PTA fundraising for technology.
CC: How will Sabin use the grant?
CT: To make this decision we’ve reached out to all the teachers and the Site Council (a committee of teachers, administrators and parents) to get a good idea of what the most effective use of this grant would be.
Right now our major challenge is access to computers. We have been very fortunate by having great support from the PTA. We’ve been able to purchase laptops for the 6-8 classes (4 laptops for each classroom) and 2 carts of 27 iPads used primarily by grades K-5. We have a computer lab of 31 PC’s, which is used for testing, morning availability for classroom sign-up for research and word processing, and afternoon Design Tech classroom. During the time of standardized testing, the lab is not available for weeks at a time. For this reason we’re looking at purchasing another mobile cart with 25-30 devices.
CC: For students, how do you make the connection between coding classes in school and future career opportunities?
CT: As an introduction to Hour of Code, we discuss with students the advantages of learning to code, not only for knowledge’s sake but also as a skill that is highly sought after and financially rewarded. I think Hour of Code does an excellent job in making this point in their introductory videos. Of course careers in coding especially resonates with the older students who are aware through the media and class discussions of the key roles coders play in digital gaming, Internet applications, and data security.
(This video is from a Google Hangout today. The blog post continues below.)
CC: How can educators bring more technology content into daily instruction?
CT: Teachers’ relationship and confidence in using technology in the classroom has evolved incredibly over the years. I remember a time when teachers would actually retire rather than learn how technology could be integrated into their educational practice. Now with desktop, laptop, iPad, Chromebook and WiFi availability teachers only worry about accessing these tools for their classrooms. Teachers learn about new technology and applications through the media and Portland Public Schools does a great job at offering and publicizing training opportunities.
Here’s the link to the full list of schools receiving grants from Code.org this year:
*Full disclosure: As a former reporter at The Oregonian, I covered Sabin as part of my responsibilities on the education beat 🙂