Less Than 30 Days Away

We are working hard to get ready for our magnet’s 1st big Epic Build Day. We are planning to share our work with computer science with the public, and classrooms are about halfway into their projects.

I wanted to give a small preview of what you can expect to see!

Here’s a break down of the projects that are being developed so far:

Kindergarten: My Name & Story Character – In these projects, students will demonstrate the use of Loops, Sprites & Backdrops to Animate their name, and analyze character, setting & events of the book “Don’t Let Pigeon Drive the Bus.”

First Grade: My Story & Math Stairs – In these projects, students will demonstrate the use of clicked events and loops to share facts about themselves, and model addition and subtraction.

Second Grade: Maze Game & Math Maze – In these projects, students will demonstrate the use of keyboard controls, logic statements, and model solving money word problems.

Third Grade: Main Menu, Prize Booth, and Habitats Coding – In these projects, students will demonstrate how to design a game menu, design variables, create a equations for game prizes, and classify different habitats.

Fourth Grade: Projectile Game & Fraction Archers – In these projects, students will demonstrate how to use stepped motion, logic statements, store data from a variable, and compare fractions.

Fifth Grade: Story Game & Narrative Storytelling – In these projects, students will demonstrate how to manage event handling, develop event triggers, and retell a story using multiple characters, dialogue and scenes.

We have been working on these projects during weekly computer lab time as well as through classroom computer science integration lessons.

It’s Time to Face Facts

Like it or not, it’s time change what we expect students to learn in school. More and more reports come out everyday that explain how important it is for educators to focus on making sure that we are not developing skills that will be automated in the near future.

Recently, the Harvard Business Review (HBR) that reported on recent studies from Forrester and McKinsey that emphasized the fact that many jobs will become automated in the future. As much as 10% in the next year and close to half the jobs in the U.S. over the next decade.

The HBR mentioned that any job that is repetitive or routine could be facing a bleak outlook. The rise of artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning that utilize large data sets means that something like getting a diagnosis from a doctor could change dramatically. However, preparing students for the future will not just mean teaching students to interact with technology alone. Employers will be looking for soft skills that can’t be imitated by machines. This means educators need to pay attention to giving students opportunities to practice skills like critical thinking, collaborating and commnicating, and solving complex problems.

This is why the Computer Science Immersion School at Sandlapper is about more that teaching coding. Our core principles align closely with the issues noted in this article, and we hope to become a program that will give our students the edge they will need to work in automated future.

Hiding in Plain Sight

This week, I wanted to share a little bit more about our school’s overall focus on computer science. It is easy to get lost in the fact that it is easy to see our students learning to code, but often the deeper connections of computer science get lost. At CSIS@SES, we are interested in doing more that teaching coding. We also want students to start seeing the possibilities computer science offers form problem solving.

One way that we hope to accomplish this mission is by addressing something called “Computational Thinking.” By addressing these skills, we hope to provide students with a framework that supports the goal of showing students how to harness the power of computing. Computational Thinking includes a set of different skills that includes concepts such as: Decomposition, Pattern Recognition, Abstraction, and Algorithmic Design.

Of these 4 concepts, Algorithmic Design may be the hardest to understand. Put simply, it means knowing how organize a series of steps to solve a problem, but its connection to our lives today goes much beyond that. To illustrate this point, I wanted to share two recent articles that I ran across this week that demonstrate the impact understanding Algorithmic Design is/will have.

First, the use of algorithms to capture detailed information about our personal lives has become a big topic. Helping students become responsible digital citizens means teaching them to understand algorithm design. Social media apps like Facebook, Twitter, and others are using algorithms in the background of their public interface to collect data about our habits. This has huge implications for how to protect our personal privacy online. This is why a search on Amazon will influence the adds you see on other websites.

I have been particularly interested in how the social media platform TikTok takes advantage of this concept to create a personalized experience by using machine-learning or artificial intelligence (AI) to optimize a feed of videos that will provide a never-ending series of tracks a videos that hold the users attention. While my son, who consumes media almost strictly through this app, finds this freeing, I find this a bit disturbing. In order to help children, like my son, we need to help become savvy consumers of digital media by teaching them how tech companies are harvesting data through hidden algorithms on the apps they use everyday. I highly recommend reading more about this in the article “How TikTok Holds Our Attention.” The article will help you start the discussion with your child.

Second, the use of algorithms helps us understand how computers are capable of handling large amounts information through a series of super-fast simple decisions. One way to introduce a child to this may be by illustrating the fact that computers don’t do math the way humans do. For example, a computer would never use the standard algorithm of multiplying. This is discussed in detail in this article by Quantamagazine called “On Your Mark, Get Set, Multiply.” In short, computers always work best when using the most efficient way possible. The standard way we were taught to multiply is not the most efficient method. A computer wants to do multiplication by breaking large numbers into smaller chunks, and by performing small additions which are faster than and more efficient than small multiplication. This is almost the exact opposite of how humans have been doing it. The graphic below gives a explanation of this

An infographic explaining the Karatsuba method for efficiently multiplying two large numbers.

I know its a bit complicated, and it isn’t easy. I’m not suggesting teaching students to multiply this way, but the important thing is that math techniques such as this become the basis of how computers encrypt and decrypt data such as secret messages and sensitive data. The methods computers use are more closely related to algebraic formulas. These formulas unlock understanding how to create shortcuts to developing even faster ways to multiply. I am hoping to design a lesson using Scratch block programming to help students see this for themselves. I think if we can get students to teach Scratch how to multiply using this type of algorithm then this will better illustrate how powerful an algorithm can be.

Big Week for CSIS

This week marks a big step forward for the progress of our school-wide magnet program. We are taking computer science instruction into every classroom. Teachers are beginning to teach integration units across all grade levels. We have a wide variety of projects that will be started this week. Some grade level are integrating math, some are using language arts and we even have a group working with science skills.

To give a better picture of what this looks like, I would like to describe the lesson many 3rd graders will be doing this week as they begin a project called “Prize Booth.” Students work this week to demonstrate their understanding of multidigit adding and subtracting by creating a “mini” project where they create an interactive display of two different math sentences. The students will learn to use different “event” and “look” blocks to share 2-3 facts they have learn about this topic. The lesson is made even more challenging as students dive into some graphic editing skills as well, since they will have to make their own number sentence “sprites.” I have included a sample of what is being taught below.

Help Improve Our Program

Community support is critical to the success of any school program, so everyone here at Sandlapper is interested in developing partnerships with those in our community that are interested in taking computer science to the next level for our students. We have a number of ways for you to support our program with your service.

We are a new magnet program in Richland School District Two. We are working to prepare our more than 600 students for work, life and citizenship by integrating computer science coding skills into the daily classroom experience. Our focus is to emphasize 21st century skills such as problem solving, critical thinking, communication, collaboration and creativity so that our students can thrive in the local, national and world high economy by preparing them for the high growth and high demand jobs.

We are writing to you because the Computer Science Immersion School is seeking partnerships with local businesses and schools to provide mentoring and leadership experience opportunities for some of our students. We are looking for partners to help us in the following ways:

  • One, to provide regular one-to-one mentoring for students,
  • Two, to adopt a classroom through frequent “digital hangouts,”
  • Three, to share work experiences during Computer Science Education Week the week of Dec. 9-13th ,and/ or
  • Four, to serve on our school’s Computer Science Advisory Council, which will meet 3-4 times a year.  

We would be appreciative of the opportunity to learn more about computer science through your service at our school. In return, we would be happy to add you to our list of “Computer Science Partners.” This would mean we would promote your business as one who supports our efforts by featuring you name and logo in an office display, school newsletters, and our school website.

We hope you see the value of this experience which will allow your business to build the computer science knowledge base of the community, but also individuals that contribute will benefit from a sense of empowerment through positive interactions with our students.

Additionally, we will be hosting three “Epic Build” Computer Science events this year. We would love for you to attend any or all of the events. Our events are scheduled for the following dates: Nov. 1st, Jan. 31st, and April 24th.

If you wish to discuss any of these proposals further, I can be contacted at the school during business hours, or by email at tswick@richland2.org.

You are Cordially Invited!

We are currently working on our projects for our first Epic Build. All students at Sandlapper are learning to develop programs using Scratch, a block-based computer language. We would love to have lots of parents and community members join us for our big celebration on Nov. 1st.

If you are interested in coming, please contact the school ahead of time, so we can be sure to work add you to our guest list. School safety protocols will require a brief background check for all visitors, so be sure to have an ID with you when you come.

First Coaching Visit

This past Friday marked a big milestone for our magnet program. We have officially begin integrating computer science across the school. Through our partnership with Code to the Future, we will receive weekly coaching support. Our school’s coach, Mrs. Campbell, made her visit series of classroom visits.

We decided to start with youngest Coding Stars in kindergarten and first grade. This first week meant learning how log in and how to start writing a program. We were able to get Scratch Cat moving, talking, and some even discovered sounds. Students had time to practice, test and debug their own code as they learned to problem solve with Scratch programming.

This first week was an all hands on deck adventure, as our school administrators, our coach, classroom teacher, myself and even students pitched in to get things started.

One of the greatest challenges students faced was learning from trial and error. We had the chance to practice this skills often. Sometimes we even needed a little help from our friends. What was great was watching everyone enjoy this process.

This week only introduced a few basic commands. Students learned about event, motion and looks blocks. Because Scratch uses shapes and colors, students that are still emerging readers are still able to get involved with coding.

Our coach focused on modeling the lessons so that teachers could observe how to get started, but once the initial topics were covered it became a team operation, and even the students learned how to collaborate and communicate with each other.

Careers in CS

In the next 10 years, the US Labor and Stats bureau anticipates a large increase in careers in Computer Science. To best prepare students for this future, our school chooses to develop an early focus on the skills required for these high paying and high demand career fields. Our goal is to help students realize the potential of computers and how to use them as resources in any career field they choose. Our belief is that CS skills will benefit any future careers field.

Below is a series of posters that illustrates this point. These posters are on display outside the cafeteria at our school.

Why Computer Science?

One of the first questions we hear about our program is “why?” There are two answers to this. One, careers in CS are going to grow greatly in the next decade, and there will be a high demand for trained people to take these high paying jobs. Two, teaching CS develops 21st Century job skills like problem solving that will be in demand by all employers.

View the presentation below for a deeper look.

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