Inviting all “CS in K-8” Enthusiasts

So much has changed in the last five years since I started teaching programming to 6th graders in my district. At that time, it was considered outright strange for a public school district anywhere. Today, some large school districts like Chicago have added computer science (CS) to their curriculum, and entire countries are adding a required computer science class in the K-12 curriculum.

‘Why Should Fifth Graders Learn to Program?’ is an article I wrote in 2011 to help answer the question of why we must introduce CS in the early years. Today, that question has been answered many times over and in response we are flooded with resources from a wide range of “coding in K-8” experts.

Most K-8 CS teachers are not dedicated CS teachers, but classroom teachers or technology specialists who are “CS in K-8” enthusiasts. They find time to integrate CS into the curriculum or carve out a special class to add to the busy school day. These teachers are now deluged with the many ways to do what they love to do – bring the excitement of CS to all their students. How can they wade through this flood of resources to find the one that fits their needs, the one that is right for their class, the one that reflects their unique teaching style, or the one with the research or pedagogy piece they want? Maybe they want a tool that offers a blended solution, or one that maximizes creativity?

With every new tool or resource that comes my way, I rush into an excited experimentation mode to see if I can use it. In my role as the district’s computer science integration specialist, I must do this research but not every teacher has the time. Often, even after my trying out the new tool, I am not ready to test it on my students. I really need is to just ask someone, Did it work in your class?

That is why I need a community of K-8 CS teachers where I can connect and ask these questions. What tool did you use for your second graders? How do you move from visual programming to text based coding and when? How did you convince your administration that the CS department should expand from its current size of one? What do you do with that kid who thinks they will never be able to code or the kid who thinks he should start with Java in third grade?. What are you doing to celebrate Computer Science education week?

I remember my excitement when I first found this CS teachers community at my first Computer Science Teachers Association (CSTA) conference. Since then, I have benefitted from connecting with these teachers by email or Twitter. I now carefully mark the conference on my calendar each year so I can meet more of these teachers in person. For those who have never attended, it is a must attend event for any CS teacher. Save the date – the next CSTA conference is July 13-14, 2015.

However, the conference is only once a year, and the questions and teacher community support is needed through the year. In addition to the CSTA local chapters, mailing lists, and Twitter, there is now an additional way to connect to this community at any time: a new Google+ community set up by CSTA for K-8 teachers.

As a K-8 teacher who has learned from this community and in my role as the new K-8 Rep for CSTA, I invite all “CS in K-8” enthusiasts to become a CSTA member as well as join the Google+ CSTA K-8 community. Introduce yourself, share a resource that worked for you, post a favorite student project, and ask those questions. You will be welcome. I hope to see you online!

Sheena Vaidyanathan
6th Grade Computer Science Teacher
Los Altos School District
CSTA Board Rep for K-8