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Getting started with computer science

Want to join in the Computer Science Education Week fun but don’t know where to start? No worries -- we got you covered. Read on for some practical tips, tricks and ideas from other teachers around the country on how they’re integrating computer science into their classrooms.

Don’t be afraid to learn with your students

“To a certain extent, teachers need to learn with the kids. One of the biggest things I freaked out about when I first started teaching computer science was that I didn’t know all parts of HTML before I started teaching it, and I was worried I wouldn’t be able to successfully teach students how to use it. While I set up a good foundation before I started, I’ve found that a lot of my knowledge has come from actually doing. Try not to feel overwhelmed and let the kids understand that you’re learning it with them and it’s OK to be wrong. In fact, it’s 100% OK to be wrong and expected to be wrong. Students these days hate to be wrong, to the point where they don’t try. I’m wrong often and I’m OK with that – you learn a lot more from being wrong than being right all the time.” -- Matt Staggs, middle-school computer science teacher, Bowling Green, KY

Show your students that computer science comes in all different shapes and sizes 

“This year for Computer Science Education Week, we have a front board in the hallway that we’re going to decorate with famous computer scientists and will have a lot of different activities for the kids to participate in. Because we’re a PreK through 12 school, we do a lot of different things to get students involved at all grade levels. For our actual classes, teachers will take their students to visit other classrooms and share what they’ve been working on. The kids really love talking about their work and hearing what others are doing to get new ideas and inspiration. We’ll also have a variety of guest speakers visit, which is great because a lot of kids have the idea that a computer scientist is a person with glasses who sits behind a computer screen all day, and that’s just not the case. It’s really fun for the kids to get to see and hear how they don’t necessarily need to be on a laptop all day if they pursue a career in STEAM. My biggest advice for anyone participating in CS ED Week for the first time is, if you’re doing a robotics unit, make sure to charge the batteries! It’s also OK to struggle a bit. The kids will struggle and are all finding their own ways to do new things – just know that they will figure it out eventually.” -- Meghan Clark, middle- and upper-school computer science teacher, Brooklyn, NY  

Embrace the failure -- and encourage your students to embrace it, too

“I have three pieces of advice for teachers looking to incorporate computer science into their classrooms. First, don’t be afraid to fail or look like a fool, because you’re going to fail or look like a fool. A lot of teachers are afraid to try something new or are worried that something will be too hard. As the saying goes, very few people learn how to swim on land. Second, it’s a lot like eating an elephant – it looks overwhelming, but slow down and take one bite at a time. Find something you like or that excites you so you’re not afraid to try it. Hour of Code is great for younger students because it’s very self-directed and could even be an extra credit assignment. There are a lot of programs out there like Hour of Code that will help you get started – I also recommend teachers set up an account for themselves and actually do the activities they’re assigning out to students. Teachers forget they’re learners too. Finally, it’s OK that students fail, too. Start by giving participation credit instead of grades for each assignment to encourage students to try without fear of failure.” -- Allen Brooks, middle-school technology teacher, San Marcos, CA 

No one – not even you! – can say “I can’t do this”

“I tried computer science the first year Hour of Code took place and immediately realized that no one – not even me! – can ever say ‘I can’t do this.’ I was actually embarrassed, because I tell my students that all the time that they might not have learned how to do it yet, but there’s always a way to learn something new. Computer science can be so intimidating, and I can completely relate to that. While I grew up with technology, I’m not a native like my students, and I just thought I couldn’t do it – but it turns out, I can! For teachers just starting out, find a fun resource that’s engaging, whether it’s with code.org, LEGO Education, or what have you. Let your kids try and try it along with them; let them see you fail. A lot of teachers are worried that they’re not going to do it  justice, but the world is changing quickly and it won’t be the same even next week – we need to help our students see that it’s OK to not know, but the important thing is to try anyway.” -- Sarah Phelps, elementary school computer science teacher, Troy, IL  

Remember to integrate unplugged activities 

“Don’t be afraid of starting computer science with kids at a young age. Young kids are great at discerning patterns and making connections, so working with them to develop some of those patterns and the type of thinking that is critical to computational thinking helps open the pathway for them to continue learning computer science down the road. Also, avoid thinking that you need everything to be digital to teach computer science. For CS ED Week this year, we have a series of unplugged projects for students to do so they’re learning computer science through games they wouldn’t necessarily realize are teaching them computer science skills. For example, we’re using LEGO Education STEAM Park with our primary students, which allows them to get hands-on and learn the basics of computer science without the digital aspect. For our middle school students, we’ll have all of Hour of Code be through our English department because it’s all about character development – when it comes to integration into the classroom, anything that requires a depth of thinking is something you can find a connection through computer science.” -- Jon Bishop, K-12 STEM coordinator, West Simsbury, CT  

Kanoe Namahoe is the editorial director for SmartBrief Education and Leadership.

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