About Those $100,000 Jobs

To get students engaged in Computer Science, one teacher says, make learning to code as easy as playing a game.

GUEST COLUMN | By Matt Mueller

CREDIT CodeCombatTeaching students how to code software is one of the most valuable skills a school can give them, and having these skills will virtually guarantee them employment once they’re in the workforce. According to the US Department of Labor, the median pay for a software developer in 2015 was $100,690, and the growth in available positions is expected to be 17 percent during the period 2014-2024 (more than twice the average growth rate across all occupations).

Yet while high schools are beginning to add Computer Science (CS) courses to their roster, very few elementary and middle schools have done so. One common reason is the difficulty of finding CS teachers – most people with the right technical background go into private enterprise.

They couldn’t get enough, and wanted to keep going after the pilot ended. I had to assure them that they could continue in the fall.

My school, Ascension School in Oak Park, Ill., has taken great pride in expanding its technical curriculum. We begin technical instruction in first grade, with skills like keyboarding. My personal belief is that all of our students should learn how to code. Tech has permeated virtually every aspect of our lives and every industry, and that means most jobs will involve some level of coding by the time my current students are out in the work force. Therefore, during the 2015-2016 school year, with the enthusiastic support of our school leadership and parents of our students, I began exploring coding curricula, with the intention of adding coding as a full-year option for our middle school students for 2016-2017.

Coding platforms for middle schoolers fall into two broad categories: drag-and-drop tools, and writing real code. I looked at tools in both categories, and quickly determined that drag-and-drop tools (Scratch is one that’s well known) are too simplistic for my middle schoolers, and thus wouldn’t hold their attention for very long. So I narrowed my search to tools that teach students to write real code. My other criteria were: high level of engagement for students (both boys and girls, both technically inclined and not), and a curriculum that could be taught by people without any CS background (since I may not be the only educator teaching these classes). While Illinois does not have state standards for CS education, I also wanted a platform that incorporated support of some other standards, such as the AP CS exam.

We piloted two platforms in the spring of 2016, and the students strongly preferred one of them: CodeCombat. It made learning to code as easy as playing a game, and the game format (involving heroes, castles and gems) was appealing to both boys and girls. The content mirrors the Stanford undergraduate CS course. In the one month we used it in our classrooms, all of the students completed the Intro to CS levels of the game, including learning basic syntax, arguments and strings – and had fun doing it. It didn’t seem like work. Students worked at their own pace, and many went beyond the Intro level. They couldn’t get enough, and wanted to keep going after the pilot ended. I had to assure them that they could continue in the fall.

My advice for educators who are considering this route:

  • If you are working with students in grades K-3, consider a drag-and-drop tool, which will be easier for students who aren’t yet prolific readers and don’t have strong keyboard skills.
  • If you are working with students in grades 4 or above, implement a platform that has students writing real code on day one. While it may seem daunting to you, it won’t be to your students. They’ll take to it quickly.
  • Have your students try out at least 2-3 different platforms for at least one month each, and watch for engagement. After our pilots, there was a clear preference from both the teachers and the students.
  • Once you select a platform, make it a yearlong program for students. You’ll be amazed at how adept they become in a very short time. It will be tempting to cut the program short because of this. Don’t do it – CS proficiency is a critical skill and can also help boost students’ interest in other STEM disciplines.

Today in the U.S., most students, especially girls and students of color, don’t ever consider a career in CS. According to CodeCombat survey data, after playing it, 88 percent of all students – regardless of gender or ethnicity – become interested in continuing to learn programming. That number doesn’t surprise me, as during our pilot, multiple students told me that Computer/CS class was their favorite part of the school day.

Learning to code is an essential skill for the twenty-first century. Offering CS education, especially earlier in their education, can give your students a significant edge and may ignite interest where none existed before.

Matt Mueller is a technology teacher at Ascension School in Oak Park, Ill.

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Cool Tool | Nearpod Common Sense Digital Citizenship

Here’s one of the nation’s leading digital citizenship curricula (from Common Sense Education) combined with interactive activities, assessments, and real-time feedback (from Nearpod, a unique mobile learning platform syncing mobile device users in the classroom). This curriculum empowers students to behave responsibly with technology, aligns with CCSS ELA and ISTE National Education Tech Standards, and helps your school qualify for e-rate funding. It covers eight vital and timely topics including internet safety, digital footprint and reputation, privacy and security, self image and identity, relationships and communication, cyberbullying, information literacy, and creative credit and copyright issues. Learn more.

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5 Ways to Disrupt STEM

Really building proficiency to fill the STEM pipeline with qualified people.

GUEST COLUMN | by Vernon Johnson

CREDIT Accelerate LearningThe demand for professionals in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) continues to outpace the supply of trained workers and professionals. A report by the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology (PCAST) estimates there will be 1 million fewer STEM graduates over the next decade than U.S. industries will need.

To complicate matters, many teachers feel hesitant about teaching science, especially at the elementary level where most do not have specialized education or training in science. Even at the secondary level, roughly 30 percent of chemistry and physics teachers in public high schools did not major in these fields and have not earned a certificate to teach those subjects, according to the National Center for Education Statistics.

A report by the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology (PCAST) estimates there will be 1 million fewer STEM graduates over the next decade than U.S. industries will need.

The U.S. Department of Education has set a priority to increase the number of students and teachers who are proficient in STEM. But are our schools and teachers ready? How can we help them “fill the pipeline,” to inspire and equip more students with the knowledge and skills to become college and career ready in STEM?

Technology can help bridge the gap. The approach, however, can’t be business-as-usual. It must be disruptive to improve and get beyond the old way of doing things.

Here are five ways we can disrupt the status quo — and change how teachers teach and students learn STEM today.

  1. Involve teachers in STEM product development on an ongoing basis.

While many STEM curriculum programs claim to be created “by teachers, for teachers,” few continue to involve working classroom teachers in their ongoing development. Yet, who better to suggest how to improve and enhance a program than the teachers who use it every day?

At my company, teacher input is as vital to us today as it was when expert teachers worked alongside Rice University professors and our company to build STEMscopes™ almost ten years ago. For example, within STEMscopes, we offer a teacher feedback tool so teachers can continually suggest updates that will make their lives easier while enhancing students’ learning. Last year, we made more than 6,000 changes to our digital preK-12 STEM curriculum based on teacher feedback alone. In addition, each summer, we host a five- to six-week “writing camp,” where we invite a few hundred teachers from across the country to develop new content for STEMscopes.

 This close collaboration with teachers is what allows us to build and continually improve a digital STEM curriculum tool that meets their daily instructional and assessment needs.

  1. Provide ongoing support for teachers.

When adopting any new edtech program, implementation support is paramount for using the program to its best advantage. That’s why every STEMscopes product includes embedded support for teachers, such as professional development videos, how-to guides, and best practices, to help them continuously improve how they teach science and use the program. By modeling hands-on, inquiry-based strategies, teachers can develop an understanding of the program’s structure, resources, and assessments, as well as how to provide interactive, engaging, technology-focused lessons.

In addition to online resources, we also have a professional development site with a menu of courses and trainings, hands-on investigations, ready-made lessons, instructional practice tips, and videos featuring STEM professionals talking about the skills students need to pursue STEM careers.

  1. Take the guesswork out of teaching the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS).

For teachers who haven’t taught science before, the NGSS can seem intimidating. Even for teachers who have experience teaching science, the NGSS require significant changes in the classroom. This is why it’s critical to provide a curriculum that it built from the ground up to the NGSS, so teachers can implement lessons without having to worry about if they meet the new standards or not.

  1. Start early.

The Federal STEM Education 5-Year Strategic Plan referenced a report, published by Robert H. Tai et al. in Science magazine in 2006, which indicated that “students who report early expectations for a career in science are much more likely to complete a college degree in a STEM field than students without those expectations. This suggests that early exposure to science topics, at middle grades or below, may be important for a student’s future career aspirations.”

Indeed, we believe that STEM should start early, with age-appropriate expectations that embrace learning by doing. STEMscopes™ Early Explorer, designed for students ages three through five, was built from the ground up to Head Start, and state and national preK and kindergarten guidelines. It is also scaffolded to prepare students for NGSS kindergarten standards. This standards-based approach allows students to get a jump-start on learning key concepts — and experiencing how much fun STEM can be. Further, by making STEM accessible and easy for preschool teachers to implement, time spent on STEM instruction increases significantly. In a 2015 study, preschool teachers reported spending an average of 36 minutes per day on STEM instruction, compared to the national average of 1-3 minutes spent on math and science in preschool classrooms.

  1. Make it affordable.

A typical science textbook can cost $75 or more. While e-textbooks on tablets can cost 50 to 60 percent less, they’re still not cheap. Choosing a STEM curriculum, however, should be about the quality of the curriculum for students and teachers, rather than the cost. It is possible to offer high-quality content, which can be used in the classroom as a core or supplemental curriculum, at an affordable price. For example, STEMscopes is priced at $5.45 to $5.95 per student per year, which is less than the cost of two Happy Meals. This means school and district leaders can make purchasing decisions based on the content, rather than the price and if they can afford it or not.

Even if students choose to pursue other college majors or careers, STEM competencies are increasingly required for workers within and outside STEM occupations. Across the college and career spectrum, it’s increasingly important to equip students with the knowledge and skills to solve problems individually and collaboratively, to gather and evaluate evidence, and to make sense of information. Students can learn these skills — and more — studying STEM.

To ensure students are college and career ready, we must enhance their engagement in STEM and inspire them to excel. Doing that requires disruptive innovations and technologies in our classrooms. If what schools were doing before was working, then the STEM pipeline would be full of qualified workers. It isn’t and it hasn’t been for years. It’s time to try something different, and to give teachers and students to the tools they need to truly change teaching and learning.

A former educator, building level administrator and superintendent, Vernon Johnson is the president and CEO of Accelerate Learning.

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Cool Tool | eBackpack

CREDIT eBackpack chartHere’s a learning management system—or call it a class workflow system—that’s simplifying teaching and making learning more engaging. With it, you can assign, annotate, collect, review, and grade assignments and assessments on any internet-connected device including PCs, Macs, iOS, Android and Windows 8. It allows you to unlock the creative and productive potential of technology in the classroom by facilitating meaningful student-teacher collaboration. Among many unique features: offline access for iOS enabling students and teachers to access their assignments and assessments any time and anywhere. They also offer third-party tool integrations, support for gradebook push through student information systems, industry-leading annotations allowing you to highlight, draw, and leave voice recordings, standards and frameworks alignments, and a parent portal to enable a strong school-home connection. The platform integrates with your calendar, OneDrive, OneDrive School accounts, Google Apps for Education, Box, Dropbox, SIS, LDAP system, and more. It also includes multimedia PDF support, layered PDF, editable annotations, and audio and video capabilities. Learn more.

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Idit Harel’s Global Vision for A New Generation

Notes from the self-described ‘wounded education disruptor with a missionary zeal’.

INTERVIEW | by Victor Rivero


An accomplished tech entrepreneur, the founder and CEO of Globaloria, Idit Harel, is an award-winning author, thought leader, and innovator in educational technology. She has been advancing STEM and computing education for decades by transforming education systems worldwide to better prepare today’s youth for the global knowledge innovation economy. What you may not know about her: Idit is an Israeli-American, a former competitive gymnast on Israel’s national modern gymnastic team, served in the Israeli army, professional dancer, mother of three, and holds four degrees. From 1995 to 2004, Idit was founder and CEO of MaMaMedia, a pioneering Internet media company that was the first web-based educational brand for kids. From 1988-1994, Idit was a research scientist and lecturer at MIT Media Lab. Her breakthrough research led to publishing Constructionism with Seymour Papert and her book Children Designers (AERA 1991 Outstanding Book Award Recipient). She has served on advisory boards and committees to help start and shape innovative education programs at the MIT Media Lab, Harvard Graduate School of Education, PBSKids Next Generation Media, MEET, TIG, Saybot, ATLAS University of Colorado, and Macaulay Honors College CUNY. She holds a B.A. from Tel Aviv University, an HGSE Ed.M. and C.A.S. from Harvard University, a Ph.D. from MIT’s Media Lab, and Executive Education from Stanford.

Humans are addicted to learning. Playful learning in particular gives us humans an extraordinary joy.

In this far-ranging interview, she discusses everything from thoughts about her MIT mentor Seymour Papert and the spirit of edtech in the 80s and 90s, to what she has in common with Sebastian Thrun, the goal of education, tips for edtech startups, and even some lessons from Pokemon.

Who are a few colleagues/pioneers in the edtech arena that you admire greatly and why?

Idit: Seymour Papert, who passed away earlier this month, was one of the most innovative learning theorists of the 20th century. Seymour was one of my genius master teachers at MIT Media Lab, a pioneering mentor in edtech innovation, and most importantly, an outstanding humanitarian. His vision for tech-infused constructionist learning keeps inspiring me to innovate every day, to work tirelessly on transforming education systems, and to help teachers and learners everywhere realize their potential. Marvin Minsky, Alan Kay, and Nicholas Negroponte have inspired me greatly as well. Bringing the computer scientist mindset and computational thinking to all students is truly my goal, and the goal of my company, Globaloria. Computer science is the new literacy, and access to learning thinking with it, starting at a young age, is a human right. The ideas of these intellectual giants from 30 years ago about how the mind works and how to invent technology for putting human minds on creative fire — are still my guide, and why Globaloria exists today.

Your seminal work in the field of edtech as a pioneer and innovator is well known. Where are the 1990s Clickerati today and how would you characterize the zeitgeist of the 2010s and coming 2020s?

Idit: In the 1990s, I named the kids born in that last decade of the 20th century, the “Clickerati Generation.” I envisioned how these children would grow up immersed in new Internet media, clicking their way around everything they do – learning, play, communication, commerce, entertainment — and how they would be unable to imagine a world without global browser-based Internet technology (e.g., Washington Post article from Oct 1999). At the end of the 20th century, we re-defined the new literacy at MaMaMedia: no longer the “three R’s,” but rather, “the three X’s” – the survival skills I believed Clickerati kids would need in the 21st century: eXploring digital spaces, or learning how to discover things on your own; eXpressing, or figuring out how to build things with digital tools on your own; and eXchanging ideas and digital creations online. I still believe the 3Xs are new foundational skills today!

CREDIT Globoria girl with gameShe’s got game. Globaloria middle-school student in San Jose learns computer science as she works on a coding project in her social studies class.

This vision became true in the 21st century (despite the collapse of the first internet-era “bubble”). Clickerati kids are alive and kicking, and what was added in the first and second decade of the 21st century are much stronger and stable social and mobile technology-based dimensions for constructionist learning and self-expression, knowledge exploration and modeling, and much better teamwork, co-production and creative sharing of tools and spaces.

What are your thoughts on constructivism and MOOCs? Is anyone doing anything good with MOOCs or are they largely a stage-on-a-stage model and missed opportunity?

Idit: Like Thrun (Udacity’s founder), I, too, am an entrepreneur and CEO in the MOOC arena, a wounded education disruptor with a missionary zeal. And while I share some bloggers’ disappointment of first generation MOOCs to some extent, I continue to be a fan of Thrun’s bold and inspiring vision for MOOCs and their role in benefiting society via rich learning. His search (and mine) for the technology that could change the way we do education is right-on — and for all the right reasons: to improve the teaching/learning process and offer it massively; to make high-quality, Stanford-style or MIT-style education more affordable and thus accessible to close opportunity gaps in schools, colleges, civil society, and careers; to offer effective courses to fast-track the development of the STEM and computing scholars and professionals urgently needed for the global innovation economy.

Your thoughts on lack of engagement with MOOCs or learning generally?

Idit: Improving engagement is usually driven by a particular learning theory. The lack of one is what primarily undermined Thrun’s initial realization of Udacity. We know a great deal today about cognition and about how learning works best with and without technology. When Udacity’s courses didn’t engage most course-takers, Thrun needed to address the question of what students require to make technology-based learning succeed, not simply perfect what he had already tried — his taped instructional lecture. In my view as a learning scientist, what engages MOOC students is a healthy blend of constructionism and learning-by-doing at the core of each course, with instructionist, front-of-the-classroom/studio lectures or tutorials-on-demand, plus coaches and mentors for supplementing any project-based learner as he/she needs, Socratic style.

What is your definition of blended learning, what makes for the best blended learning conditions?

Idit: Before we pick up too much speed we need to stop and we need to consider the educational future we are aiming for in higher education, technical education, and especially in the early years of K-12 education, when it really counts.

I describe it as blended learning for Instructionism vs. Constructionism.

It seems to me that some recent MOOCs and start-up ideas in Blended learning — which at the outset appear exciting and promising — are basically indifferent to what we know about what constitutes good learning. All of a sudden, John Dewey,Jean Piaget, Lev Vygotsky, Maria Montessori, Seymour Papert, Jerome Bruner, Howard Gardner, John Seely Brown — more than 100 years of theory about cognition and learning-by-doing — are being forgotten.

We have found that when the aim is to make children the designers and builders of their own learning, and therefore the owners of the knowledge they achieve, Constructionism is necessary. And if investors and innovators want the new flipped classrooms to have a significant and scalable impact on students, we must use technology to integrate and promote Constructionist learning spaces across the country — faster.

What should be the goal of education?

Idit: The goal of education should be to provide all students with the opportunity to achieve academic fulfillment, joy of learning new knowledge and skills, and economic success. In order to do so, our schools need to prepare them for the new global economy where computer science and utilizing computational tools fluently is the new literacy.

Globaloria courses were designed with this idea in mind. We emphasize utilizing computational tools fluently for iterative design thinking through conceptualizing and creating complex projects about topics of passion, interest, or for clarifying misconceptions. By 2025, the workforce will require people who can conceive and create advanced robotics, virtual reality and artificial intelligence platforms. We must prepare our students to become active members of the new global innovation economy (I call it preparing kids for the “Constructionist Economy”) – failing to do so misses the goal of education, and is an egregious act of social injustice.

What does Globaloria do right that sets it well apart from other companies operating in the space, and how is it able to get it so right?

Idit: Globaloria is different from other companies operating in this space because it teaches students professional computer programming languages and engineering practices and skills, as opposed to a light-and-fluffy version of computing, which I refer to as “pop-computing.” Students who take the Globaloria courses are using the same programs and processes as professional engineers and computer scientists working at major tech companies and businesses, and they learn innovation through MIT-style education. Additionally, Globaloria uses iterative design methods to build soft skills like communication, collaboration, creative thinking, and trial-and-error, contributing to students’ well-rounded education.

CREDIT Globoria STEM four

Gracious hosts. Globaloria team hosts NYC high-school students from Brooklyn, Queens and the Bronx as interns every summer to evaluate new courses and inspire them to pursue college studies and careers in computing. 

We have been one of the first organizations in the nation to implement “computer science education for all” – schools, teachers, students, subjects and zip-codes. Our decades of research and practice in urban and rural schools guided career and technical education policies and computer science standards at the federal and state level. Our approach is based on my pioneering, award-winning research at the MIT Media Lab on students learning through design and computer programming.

What are your thoughts about the current Pokemon phenomenon? Is this a craze worth looking at, or should we ignore it and walk into barriers like its players? Anything to learn from it?

Idit: How can someone ignore a phenomenon that entered the masses consciousness overnight? I think there are several things we can we learn from it:

1. We can’t always predict what will be a successful product.

2. Gaming is the most pervasive media today and we should use it for learning for that very reason. Successful games can attract millions of users and billions of dollars.

3. The phenomenon can lose its magic as quickly as it gained it – as a game. But if we integrate learning, it can never lose its magic. Humans are addicted to learning. Playful learning in particular gives us humans an extraordinary joy.

4. It’s is easy to control people’s movement in the physical world with simple game mechanics. If we can use the same simple scalable game mechanics for learning and teaching – that’s going to be incredible!

5. We have a huge need to collect, categorize, and organize items — even virtual ones.

6. We’ve only scratched the surface of AR games. It’s the beginning! Let’s teach the next generation how to program them, so better ones will emerge in the future.

CREDIT Globoria groupNext-gen smiles. Students in Houston ISD designed Globaloria T’s to promote their computer science projects among other students and teachers in their school.

What tips would you provide to an edtech startup these days? 

Idit: Don’t give anything for free. Good quality and engaging edtech that is truly transformative requires a combination of smart technology development, platform enabled content development, customized mentoring service, teacher training and guiding services to parents, which cost money to build and service. Part of the experiment of product-market fit is also testing market demand and pricing that can make the business self-sustainable. If all your customers are paying, and renewing, and recommending it to others or buying it for them as a gift – it’s a great edtech company.

Victor Rivero is the Editor in Chief of EdTech Digest. Write to: victor@edtechdigest.com

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