Osage teacher and media specialist Kelley Molitor leads students through a coding lesson at Osage Community Schools in November. (Courtesy NewBoCo)
As the presence of computers in the workplace continues to grow, K-12 schools are under growing pressure to add computer science to their curriculum.
But how can educators be expected to teach computer science to students if they don’t have that knowledge in the first place?
For Samantha Dahlby and her colleagues at NewBoCo, that challenge has been a key focus since 2016. As NewBoCo’s director of K-12 Education, Dahlby is working to train teachers all over the state in computer science curriculum, with the end goal of getting that curriculum into every K-12 school in Iowa by 2025.
“Computer science, at a very high level, is using computers to solve problems,” Dahlby said. “We have been fortunate to work with teachers eager to learn.”
Samantha Dahlby, director of K-12 Education for NewBoCo, leads a session on coding with students at Osage Community Schools in Osage on Thursday, April 15, 2021. (Courtesy NewBoCo)
NewBoCo is the designated provider of Code.org Professional Learning Programs in Iowa. The organization provides professional development to educators through local school district partnerships.
When Dahlby began with NewBoCo, the organization focused mainly on programs for students local to Cedar Rapids. Since 2016, her team has expanded efforts to work with more than 950 educators across the state.
NewBoCo also acts as a regional hub for Code.org’s efforts to bring computer science education into classrooms in more than 180 countries.
They have also reached beyond just Code.org professional development into other curricula and customized professional development. Projects have included:
- Partnering with Great Prairie Area Education Agency to provide three workshops throughout the year around kindergarten through eighth grade computer science, integration examples with core content areas and implementation paths for which districts should be aware
- Supporting Fort Madison’s Computer Science Cohort to deepen its connections to core content areas and create an on-boarding plan for training more teachers on computer science education and integration
- Working with grade bands in Osage to make connections to core content areas and learn and practice ways to expand engagement through lessons and student projects already happening throughout the year.
Dahlby and her team lead five-day workshops during the summer to prepare teachers for the start of the school year. From there, they hold four days worth of workshops during the school year to keep supporting teachers while they are implementing the program.
“Typically our workshops are in-person, but last summer we went virtual, and summer workshops will be virtual again this year,” Dahlby said.
During the training, teachers experience computer science curriculum from the perspective of an educator, as well as a student. It turns out school teachers make for good students themselves.
“I love it when participants share their personal stories or a story from a student,” she recalled. “Watching teachers as they enable their students to explore different career opportunities, or see how they can make a difference, keeps me motivated in this work.”
Abby Stoll has been a teacher with the Springville Community School District since 2011. Last fall she taught computer science to two seventh-grade sections of seventh-grade students, using curriculum she had learned from NewBoCo.
“This past year, I have been a part of two classrooms. One with my peers learning about (computer science) concepts, and another with my students teaching (those) concepts.” Stoll recalled.
“The best part was having colleagues that had the same questions or concerns, and others that processed information differently. I could both consider the content as a student, and observe different ways of thinking as a teacher.”
Stoll said those lessons are critical for Iowa’s business community, and for the students who will grow up to work in it.
“Computer science is not an extra skill, it’s an essential skill,” she said. “Computer science is not only applicable to specifically computers. it is how our world works — both digital and analog. It’s essential for our students to be successful during their education and in their future careers.
“It’s essential for us as teachers to navigate how to interpret and create content. This program with NewBoCo provides the support, the resources, and the knowledge beyond what any one teacher can achieve alone.”
“Working with districts and educators to understand their needs and barriers is how we have been able to grow this program in Iowa,” she said.
“We have seen so many positives bloom from this work.”