New Year, New Ideas, New Strategies: Personalizing Learning in Computer Science Education

It’s that time of year when everyone is reflecting back on the experiences they’ve had the past year and thinking about resolutions for the upcoming year. As teachers, we usually reflect back during the summer months on how the school year went. However, teachers also use the end of a semester as a time to reflection. Often times after winter break, teachers start new classes and have new students. With the start of a new semester, teachers have the opportunity to review and build upon previous experiences from first semester, but also implement new ideas and new teaching strategies. With the second semester quickly approaching, it has me thinking of my own resolutions for second semester and what I would like to do differently. At the beginning of this school year, I attended a workshop where I learned about the five elements of personalized learning set forth by my school district. I remember walking away from this workshop with a handful of ideas and strategies that I could implement in my own classroom. However, here I am at the end of the semester, and I haven’t had the chance to fully implement the five elements. So as my second semester resolution, I am committed to personalizing the learning experience for students in my computer science courses. Below is my plan as it aligns to the five elements of personalized learning.

Element #1 – Know Your Learners:  Knowing my students’ interests is the beginning of personalizing their learning experience. By using interest inventories, I can find out what areas of computer science they’re interested in, what they already know, what they would like to learn, and how I can help them to further their overall interests in computer science.

Element #2 – Voice and Choice: I know that all students learn differently, so why should I force all my students to sit through a lecture or have them all do the same project with the same requirements? By letting go of the uniformity, I provide voice and choice for my students. Students will not only be given a choice in how they access the content, but they will also have a choice in how they demonstrate their proficiency. Ultimately, I want my students to have the opportunity to demonstrate their learning in a meaningful way and give them more ownership of their learning.

Element #3 – Flexibility:  It seems like the term “flexible classroom” is all the rage these days. Providing students an opportunity to move their desks, sit in comfy chairs, and work in all areas of the classroom is said to increase learning and engagement. I was skeptical at first, but after trying it out for one week in my classroom, I was shocked. My fears of students not getting any work done and just socializing were quickly dismissed. My students really enjoyed having the freedom to move around and collaborate with each other, allowing them to make the classroom their own personal learning space. I also feel that a flexible classroom provides my students with a more realistic view of what they will encounter when they enter the workforce, especially in the field of computer science.

Element #4 – Data Informed Decisions: Students often look to teachers to be the experts, but rarely are students given the opportunity to be called the expert. By pre-testing each student, I can get a better understanding of their skill level and use this data to provide them with a more individualized approach to learning. I can also encourage students to step forward and be content experts, allowing them to do some peer-teaching.

Element #5 – Technology Integration:  The SAMR Framework is a commonly used model for technology integration. I find myself all to often integrating technology that only enhances my content, which only reaches the first two levels of the model (Substitution and Augmentation). I would like to stretch myself and explore types of technology integration what will reach the transformation levels of the model (Modification and Redefinition). One type of technology integration that I would like to implement is student-created podcasts and videos. I want to give my students opportunities to become creators of content and share their experiences with others.

I am excited to embark on my resolution of embedding the elements of personalized learning within my computer science courses. I think by embracing the mindset of personalized learning while structuring my classroom around the five elements will lead to an increase of student engagement. I am also excited to see my students take more ownership of their learning and pursue their passions further in the field of computer science.

Kristeen Shabram
K-8 representative