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January Update

CS in Schools officially launches in less than two weeks. Our founding volunteers will soon be in the classroom helping teachers develop their skills in teaching coding to students, and our evaluation of the programme starts this weekend.

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As always, we remain focused on two priorities for 2019:

  1. Helping teachers become confident and competent in teaching coding in schools
  2. Evaluating our programme to understand what works and how to scale it in 2020 and beyond

Every month at CS in Schools is an exhilarating whirlwind. In that respect, we’re like every other startup! Plenty has been happening:

  • Our volunteer workshop is this weekend. We’re excited to be bringing together 15 amazing volunteer CS professionals with a group of experienced teachers. The experienced teachers will be helping our volunteers understand what it’s like to work alongside a teacher in a high school classroom. We thank Kristy Kendall in particular for the enormous volunteer contribution she’s made to putting together the workshop
  • Our lesson materials are almost ready. Toan Huynh, who’s the Head of Digital Technologies at the John Monash Science School has been working closely with us over summer to build engaging lessons for Year 7 students
  • We’ve made progress on evaluation of the programme, and we’re working with Jeff Brook’s team here at RMIT to study how effectively we can improve the confidence and skills of teachers through our unique in-class professional development approach
  • We have a very nice logo (there’s alternate versions below too)

As always, we’re still looking for opportunities to pitch for more volunteers and to get tech companies involved in our work. Ping us if you’re interested, and you can volunteer directly here. And we always need financial support of what’s a philanthropic initiative — please reach out if you can help.

Programme

The programme hasn’t changed substantively, and so I’ll skip the details this time around. Read this blog post if you’d like a summary, or read this if you’d like to learn more.

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Volunteering

We are very thankful to have 15 amazing “founding” volunteers in the CS in Schools programme. Thank you to all of them!

Much of the past two months has been about recruiting volunteers. We had enormous support from SEEK and MessageMedia in particular, and many of our 15 volunteer CS professionals are from those two organisations. We thank them profusely. We also thank Ento, CultureAmp, Carsales, Edrolo, and REA for their engagement. We thank all the employers for letting their staff spend their time in a classroom during working hours!

Our focus with the volunteers is getting them ready to be in a Year 7 classroom supporting a teacher who’s keen to learn how to teach students to code. To that end, we’re running a workshop this weekend to help get the volunteers ready. Topics that are covered include:

  • Working with students
  • How to explain coding
  • Presentation basics and preparing for class
  • Classroom scenarios
  • Successful partnerships with teachers and schools

Most of the sessions are facilitated by an experienced school teacher or school executive who’s expert in the topic, and the presentation basics session is facilitated by a professional presentation coach. Our goal is to give the volunteers an appreciation of what it’s like to be in a classroom, and to help them be effective mentors and coaches to teachers.

We owe enormous thanks to Kristy Kendall for the contribution she’s made to putting together the workshop.

There’s more information about volunteering here, and details of our training workshop for volunteers can be found here.

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Lessons

We’ve been working hard over the holidays on our first module at CS in Schools. It’s a ten week programme that is roughly two hours per week and aimed at Year 7 students. We’re not quite ready to release the materials, but we will do so in the next two or three weeks under a Creative Commons license. Our goal is to have teachers independently teaching students how to code, and we believe an open license is the best way to achieve that goal.

We thank Toan Huynh, who’s the Head of Digital Technologies at the John Monash Science School, for spending much of his holidays working with us on the lessons. He’s helped build slides, worksheets, interactive projects, and videos.

The lessons are designed to help teachers teach students how to write code. Students will develop real Python programs in an editor, debug them, and build their own software. There’s two final projects, one of which includes writing code to compete in a Sumo Challenge using an Edison robot. We can’t wait to see how our classes are received.

Our lessons aim to cover critical hard-to-teach parts of the Victorian DigiTech curriculum at Levels 7 and 8. It’s up to schools to decide what materials to use, and whether they’re meeting the Victorian requirements, but it’s our goal to give them a head start and some great materials to build from. In any case, we hope that schools will be able to say that their Year 7s have learnt how to code using the most popular programming language. If we’ve succeeded, there’ll be a trained teacher at the school who can continue to deliver that outcome into the future!

We know from experience that actually teaching coding is the hardest step in delivering the Victorian curriculum. We’re excited to launch the lessons soon!

Evaluation

It’s early days in evaluation of the programme. We plan to administer surveys of teachers and volunteers pre- and post- their experience with the CS in Schools programme. We’re working with others at RMIT to build a robust evaluation, and we plan to submit a paper for publication in a refereed venue in the middle of 2019. I’ll share more on this topic in a future blog post.

Thanks for reading all the way to here. Cheers, Hugh.

 

 

November Update

CS in Schools is closer to reality. We’re excited about the next two months, which are focused on the final steps in launching our programme in schools for term one.

If you’d like to help us, there’s two three things you can do:

  1. First, if you’re an experienced software engineer, please consider volunteering.
  2. Second, if you work in the tech industry, invite us to come and speak to your developers about being involved as volunteers
  3. Third, if you want to support our work, please lobby your employer to donate to the programme

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We remain focused on two priorities for 2019:

  1. Helping teachers become confident and competent in teaching coding in schools
  2. Evaluating our programme to understand what works and how to scale it in 2020 and beyond

Our plan to achieve those priorities has changed over the past six weeks. Our most significant change is that we have moved to a volunteer-driven model that we believe will scale better in 2020 and beyond. Similarly to TEALS, this model places software engineers in the classroom alongside school teachers. We expect our plans to continue to evolve as we learn.

The schools in our pilot are deep into timetabling and assigning teachers to the programme. We are also busy recruiting volunteers, and have pitched the programme to developers at SEEK, MessageMedia, Ento, and CultureAmp. We’re building a two day training programme for volunteers to learn the basics of working in a classroom, and this will run on 19 and 20 January.

We have successfully raised enough funds for the first six months of the programme, and continue to look for more funding. The most significant major component that remains is curriculum development, which has only just begun.

Programme Overview

CS in Schools is part of RMIT‘s Policy and Impact Portfolio. It’s a philanthropic initiative that’s focused on helping teachers confidently teach computer science to high school students in Australia.

Today, most schools struggle to teach coding: there’s a shortage of teachers who feel qualified to teach computer science, and most successful coding classes are run outside of school hours. We believe that today’s teachers can effectively teach coding if they’re supported through in-class professional development.

Many of the important and best paid jobs of this and the next generation will require computational thinking. Even if a student doesn’t study computer science at university, it’s essential they have the basics because just about every job will be changed by technology. We want every student in Australia to have this opportunity.

In 2019, we are piloting a programme with eight schools, and studying how successfully we can help teachers ramp-up their skills. Beyond 2019, we plan to launch this programme broadly.

Our programme continues to evolve as we learn. We’ve refined our priorities to:

  • Helping teachers become confident and competent in teaching coding in schools
  • Evaluating our programme to understand what works and how to scale it in 2020 and beyond

To achieve these priorities, we will trial novel teacher professional development pilot programmes in 2019. We will make this programme free for schools in 2019, supported by generous donations.

Our plans to deliver the programme are as follows:

  • Find volunteers who are experienced software engineers and prepared to work in a classroom for around two hours per week
  • Train the volunteers through a two-day workshop (on January 19 and 20) and through additional out-of-class support
  • Pair a volunteer with a teacher from a school in the pilot
  • From February, the volunteers will work in the classroom with the teachers from the schools:
    • In the first term (or semester) working in a school, the volunteer will help explain coding to the students and the school’s teacher will learn through observation and by providing student support
    • In our second term (or semester), it’s anticipated we’ll switch the roles: the school’s teacher will be the primary driver, with in-class support and training from the volunteer
  • We’re hopeful that beyond the first two iterations, the school’s teacher will be independent, and require limited support from our programme

Our pilot is focused on:

  • Helping Year 7 teachers in Victorian high schools
  • Building one-term (or semester) of lesson materials for a two hour per week, ten week term
  • Providing lesson plans, assignments, hardware, and software
  • Building materials that cover “harder parts” of the Victorian DigiTech curriculum, with a focus on the coding skills. It’s up to the school to decide how and when to use our materials to meet their obligations, but we hope we’ll give them something awesome to build on

Volunteering

Our volunteer-based programme is conceptually simple. We approach tech companies, explain the programme to software engineers / developers, and call for applications through our website. We meet the applicants, discuss the programme, and select applicants based on their suitability (where they’re located, the time they have available, the school needs, and our overall assessment of their aptitude). We then assign successful applicants to a class. We then train the volunteers to have basic classroom skills, connect them to their partner teacher in a school, and support them through one or two terms of volunteering in schools. (There’s more detail here.)

We launched this new model around three weeks ago, and we have twelve applicants that we’ve met. We have two more pitches at tech companies, and we’re yet to push out the programme on social media; indeed, this is the first time we’ve shared it broadly. We likely need 15 to 20 volunteers: we will have close to 15 classes to cover, and we know we will need volunteers who can jump in to cover for others on short notice or replace a volunteer.

We’re feeling good about the new model, and we’re thrilled with the response from the software industry.

Volunteerism can scale nationally. If we’re able to find, recruit, and train software engineers, we can scale to 100 schools in 2020, and we’d love to scale to 1000 schools in 2021. The challenges are recruiting, training, and managing the volunteer cohorts, and figuring out models that will work for regional and remote areas. We already know that the administrative cost of working with schools and volunteers is high, and we will need help.

Fundraising

We have raised funds to support our pilot from three generous donors, Leigh Jasper, Martin Hosking, and Adam Lewis. All three see the immediate need to change computing education in Australia, and we’re thrilled to be able to do something on their behalf. We thank them sincerely, they’re amazing people.

We need more money to fund our programme, and we continue to work hard to raise money from individuals and corporate partners. If you’re interested in supporting the programme, or have a connection into a funding source, we’d love to hear from you.

Corporate Support

If you have a connection to a software company, or a company that employees software engineers (or developers or computer scientists or whatever you’d like to call them!), we’d love to hear from you. We need ways to scale volunteerism, and we’re keen to visit tech companies and pitch the programme. Today, we’re only working in Victoria and mostly in Melbourne, so that’s our focus for now. Of course, we plan to expand Australia-wide in 2020 and beyond.

Thanks for reading all the way to here. Cheers, Hugh and Selina.