In North Salem Central School District, every student is encouraged to engage with computational thinking (CT) and computer science (CS). Aligning their efforts with the New York State Computer Science and Digital Fluency Standards and the Profile of a North Salem Graduate, the district has developed a Computational Thinking Pathway, which provides CT and CS learning opportunities for all students.
CT pathways are system-wide K-12 programs supporting equitable participation in computational thinking. They are consistent across classrooms, cumulative from year to year and competency-based (i.e., focused on elements such as “data practices” and “understanding and using algorithms”).
Beginning in the fall of 2018, North Salem partnered with Digital Promise to provide professional learning opportunities for teachers in the district. Over the course of three years, two cohorts of teachers received CT professional learning. This past year, district leaders in North Salem worked with teachers and building leaders to articulate their K-12 CT pathway, a progression that has expanded computational thinking to all students within their district. Now, students in North Salem have CT-integrated K-12 lessons to support and enhance their disciplinary learning.
Julio Vazquez, director of instruction and human resources at North Salem, emphasizes the importance of this effort: “We are working to build our capacity in teaching CT to fully integrate computing in all grade levels and across multiple subject areas. In doing so, we are providing meaningful and deeper learning experiences for all our learners, which will lead to equitable access and opportunities in CS.”
North Salem sets a good precedent; district adoption of standards and initiatives is the crucial next step for the expansion of genuinely inclusive computing. But the district is currently an outlier. While all 50 state education departments have created CS and CT standards, not all districts are actively and systematically implementing such computing standards across their schools. This is not necessarily the fault of school districts. There needs to be expanded support to help them articulate and implement these consistent, cumulative and competency-based pathways. Districts must bring together available resources, activities, national events and tools to create a learning progression that allows students to engage in computing opportunities equitably.
Accordingly, Digital Promise has partnered with Infosys Foundation USA—a leading nonprofit with the mission of expanding computer science and maker education to under-represented K-12 communities in the US—to develop a nine-module course that supports district leaders in designing inclusive CT pathways. “Developing District-Wide Inclusive Computational Thinking Pathways” will be available on-demand, free of charge on Pathfinders Online Institute, the foundation’s signature digital learning platform.
Want to get started on your district’s CT pathway? Join us for a webinar on November 10, 2022 to learn more.
This course is specifically designed to help school and district leaders establish inclusive, district-wide CT pathways aligned with their own internal initiatives and vision. The course first supports district leaders in assembling a leadership team. Then, it guides the teams through the steps of developing a pathway, providing content knowledge and activities to support K-12 development. Co-designed with six districts (from six different states) who have all developed their own CT pathway, the course adapts Digital Promise’s CT Pathways Toolkit, based on a three-fold process: plan, build and implement.
District buy-in is key to addressing the ongoing equity dilemmas and challenges that have consistently constrained computing education for the past half-century. Of course, what works in one district will not necessarily work in another. As the work in North Salem demonstrates, it is essential for districts to translate state standards and overarching definitions of CT to fit their own district capacity and needs at a scale and scope that works for them. Districts must create pathways that meet the unique needs and contexts of their learning environments, students and broader community.
We live in an increasingly technological and computational world. While national and state policies and initiatives have admirably pushed CS and CT education forward, there is now a real need for districts to develop inclusive CT pathways that map a cumulative, consistent and competency-based learning trajectory for all students in K-12 to develop computational thinking skills.