Based on a variety of motivations, schools, districts, states, and even entire countries are setting standards for teaching Computer Science K-12. As someone who has spent four decades advocating for truly personal computing across the curriculum, I am encouraged by this trend while simultaneously concerned with its implementation.
That is why I have been so incredibly pleased and honored to help the great State of Alabama shape the future of Computer Science in their public schools. Over the past few months, I have been engaged in several projects intended to help educators in Alabama identify the potential of Computer Science, not just as a course of study, but as a vehicle for improving pedagogical practice and amplifying the potential of children.
The traditional approach to such curricular reforms is by edict and lofty rhetoric copied and paste from a laundry list of standards. Political goals and the relative ease of textbook adoption leads to a predictable cycle of apathy, inaction, and playacting until a stiff wind blows in a new new educational priority.
Forty years after microcomputers entered classrooms, a greater sense of urgency is required. Two generations of students have already missed out on rich learning adventures. I seek to democratize computer programming in order to help children develop agency over an increasingly complex and technologically sophisticated world.
Since all of my work is based on the centrality of the learner, the democratization of experience, the competence of teachers, and untapped kid power, my work in Alabama is more than a workshop, set of standards, or “hour of code” performance. This work embodies a holistic approach by inspiring education specialists, developing teacher fluency, revealing the possible, and documenting children’s remarkable capacity for intensity. We began by offering a full-day workshop for math and science specialists across the state; followed by a post-graduate level course, complete with weekly hands-on projects and sprinkled with learning theory; and a programming class for fourth graders that is visible to other educators.
Computer programming makes thinking visible and helps educators understand student knowledge construction. Creating challenging, meaningful, and authentic mathematical experiences for children pays a myriad dividends.
In order to lead others to teach Computer Science , one must possess a working knowledge of what’s possible. In order to teach computer science across the curriculum, teachers need firsthand experience making things, debugging, and solving problems with code. Policy makers, educators, and parents alike are best prepared to make educated decisions about what students can and should do when they see through the eyes, hands, and screens of their computers what is possible. Our exciting work in Alabama satisfies these objectives and serves each constituent group of stakeholders.
The following programs being implemented in Alabama are available and customizable to meet the needs of your school, district, or state. Contact us to collaborate with Dr. Stager or to seek more information.
The Case for Computing
Full-day or multi-day workshop
This workshop will inspire educators to teach computer science through hands-on experience with exemplary computer programming activities modeling computing across the curriculum and pedagogical approaches that amplify the creative and intellectual potential of each student. During this introductory workshop, the rationale for computing will be accompanied by mini-computing projects exploring design, computational thinking, experimental mathematics, and linguistics. Workshop participants will also be introduced to powerful new programming environments for learning and resources to support their efforts.
Learning to Compute – Computing to Learn
A teacher development course
It is axiomatic that teachers cannot teach what they do not know, and that knowledge is a consequence of experience. Therefore, if educators are expected to teach computer science across the grade levels and subject areas, they need high-quality educational experiences that reveal possibilities, develop their own fluency, and inform decisions about teaching computer science to young people.
Learning to Compute – Computing to Learn, is a comprehensive online course customized to satisfy widely adopted Computer Science standards and specific needs of participating educators. This ten-week course created and taught by Dr. Gary Stager will integrate computer science concepts, effective pedagogical techniques, and programming/coding skills through mini-projects.
Each week will be framed around an open-ended computing project or challenge. Participating educators will be encouraged to share their work, provide peer feedback, and support each other in an asynchronous forum. Synchronous sessions, digital materials, and office hours will be deployed as necessary to support the learning community.
This survey course is introductory in nature and intended for K-12 educators. Subsequent courses may be offered.
Rather than teach a bunch of vocabulary absent meaningful context, Learning to Compute – Computing to Learn focuses on learning-by-doing. Hands-on activities, open-ended projects, and ongoing collaboration will develop in-service educators prepared to help children develop agency over an increasingly complex and technologically sophisticated world.
Teachers in the course will not only learn to teach computer science concepts to children, they will develop their own technology skills, and become more reflective in their pedagogical practice.
 The course duration is negotiable.
Clever Computing for Kids
A Computer Science course for children
Clever Computing for Kids is an online computer programming course for upper elementary and middle school students taught by Dr. Gary Stager. Schools may enroll individual, groups, or classes of students for the eight or ten-week course.
There will be a 45-60 minute synchronous Zoom session each week to introduce new concepts, answer questions, and share that week’s learning adventures. Videos of these sessions will be available immediately for students to consult and for those who miss the session for whatever reason.
The rest of the week’s activities will take place asynchronously. Students will be encouraged to share their work to inspire peers and receive feedback. Questions are always welcome with an “ask three before me” protocol employed and encouraged. Students may contact the teacher (Dr. Stager) publicly or privately at any time within the course interface. “Office hours” may be scheduled as needed.
Project work is expected to be posted online by the next synchronous session. Support materials and project briefs will be posted online for anytime anywhere retrieval.
What makes this course different from other online computer science classes?
Students in this course will learn from one of the world’s foremost authorities on learning by programming. Dr. Stager believes that computer programming is a new liberal art. It gives children agency over an increasingly complex and technologically sophisticated world. Programming is intellectually rich, creatively expressive, and fun. It is perfectly suited to a child’s remarkable capacity for intensity.
In addition to teacher expertise, the content of the Clever Computing for Kids experience is quite unique. Most schools offer computer literacy instruction that provide awareness or “do a little Scratch.” These courses endeavor to inspire children to go much deeper. Being online, even partially, allows kids to work on projects unencumbered by a traditional school timetable. Ingenuity, creativity, and “hard fun” will be prized.
Gary Stager began teaching children to program computers in 1982. Since that time, he has taught tens of thousands of educators to teach children to program. He has published countless articles, edited journals, and co-authored the influential book, Invent To Learn: Making, Tinkering, and Engineering in the Classroom, considered the “bible of the maker movement in schools.” Gary has consulted on the design of and written learning materials for LogoWriter, LogoEnsemble, and MicroWorlds. Dr. Stager led professional development in the world’s first 1:1 laptop schools and helped realize the potential of computer programming across the curriculum in countless schools around the world. He is on the advisory board of the National Science Foundation funded project, Beauty and Joy of Computing for New York City: Bringing a Rigorous Computer Science Principles Course to the Largest School System in the US and two other STEM NSF projects. He is considered one of the world’s leading authorities on learning-by-doing, robotics, computer programming and the maker movement in classrooms.
Clever Computing for Kids has a strong emphasis on thinking mathematically. Building on the powerful ideas of Dr. Seymour Papert, these courses offer opportunities for children to be mathematicians, rather than being taught math. Mathematics is a way of making sense of the world and computer programming is the way mathematics is made. If our goals are no more ambitious than improving achievement on the existing math curriculum, we would teach every child to program computers. Much of the school math curriculum has no relevance or meaningful context outside of computing. Clever Computing for Kids will feature learning adventures in which programming, computer science, and mathematics reinforce each other without an emphasis on syntax or vocabulary.
Computing makes project-based learning possible in mathematics. Even while designing graphics, storytelling, or gaming, mathematical thinking and computation are required to realize one’s ambitions. Debugging develops problem solving skills, resilience, independence, and other habits of mind critical for successfully navigating an uncertain future.
Concepts explored in Clever Computing
The following are some of the anticipated concepts and skills encountered in the course.
Number sense, counting by various increments, sequences, patterns, polygons, addition, subtraction, multiplication, division, place value, decimals, fractions, randomness, coordinates, linear measurement, odd/even numbers, estimation, angles, scale, velocity, circles, arcs, area, perimeter, circumference, radius, diameter, integers, order of operations, angle measure, variables, pre-algebra, representing data, Boolean logic, coordinate geometry, Euclidean geometry, gravity, absolute value, exponents, composite & prime numbers, probabilistic thinking, iteration, recursion, identifying patterns, number theory, procedural description, debugging.
In addition to the mathematical experiences featured in Clever Computing for Kids, the course is distinguished by the following features.
- Open-ended learning adventures
- Focus on generative knowledge construction
- Collaboration encouraged
- Creativity celebrated
- Independent inquiry
- Visible thinking via programming artifacts
- An approach to teaching compute programming (coding) as a liberal art
- Ungraded course
- The course duration is negotiable
Many thanks to my fabulous colleagues in Alabama for making this work so rewarding!
Your school, district, or department of education can work with Gary Stager. Email for more information.
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Veteran educator Gary Stager, Ph.D. is the author of Twenty Things to Do with a Computer – Forward 50, co-author of Invent To Learn — Making, Tinkering, and Engineering in the Classroom, publisher at Constructing Modern Knowledge Press, and the founder of the Constructing Modern Knowledge summer institute. He led professional development in the world’s first 1:1 laptop schools thirty years ago and designed one of the oldest online graduate school programs. Gary is also the curator of The Seymour Papert archives at DailyPapert.com. Learn more about Gary here.