Actually, to be more accurate, they were filled with students talking about those sights and smells and tastes, as they recapped a recent trip to the historic Sweet Auburn neighborhood. In one classroom, students recorded their observations on laptops, using cloud-based software to edit and comment on their classmates’ drafts. In another, they used the Canva graphic-design app to create infographics that summed up their experience.
This was the beginning of a project that will span an entire quarter and multiple content areas, as Centennial’s fifth-graders discuss the ties between a city’s built environment and the ways that city marks the history of the civil rights movement. The project will integrate social studies (describing the importance of key people and events during the civil rights era), math (representing places on a coordinate system), English Language Arts (writing opinion pieces and supporting a point of view) and more.
An educator reading the description above could instantly name the strategy used: project-based learning, or PBL. But there’s another descriptor that works, one that might not be as obvious:
It’s a way to introduce computational thinking at the elementary level, before students ever enter middle- and high-school courses solely dedicated to computer science. Centennial’s Associate Head of School for Academic Affairs, Alison Shelton, describes it as “a more authentic approach – with project-based learning as the framework.”
“Because they spend rich and real time around those particular standards, they have a deeper understanding,” Shelton said. “And over time they retain the information.”
Fifth-graders at Centennial could identify the specific computational skills they were using as they described their Auburn Avenue trip – things like problem decomposition and data collection, representation, and analysis.
At the state level, the Georgia Department of Education and its partners are working to expand access to computer science throughout the state – recognizing that computer science provides foundational learning that benefits every child, giving them a set of essential knowledge for a wide variety of future careers and interests.
“Computer science is an important foundation for all kids,” said Bryan Cox, the GaDOE’s Computer Science Specialist. “The digital transformation of our society is going to have an impact on every industry – from lawyers to fashion designers to medical technology professionals.”
High school students in Georgia now have access to nine computer science courses that can provide graduation credit for a fourth science or fourth math, and the Department’s Teaching and Learning staff are currently reviewing standards for the existing middle school computer science courses. Georgia also participated in the development of the K-12 Computer Science Framework, an overarching set of ideas developed by industry, organizations and state contributors about what aspects of computer science should be taught to every K-12 student.
“Computer science is essential knowledge for children in today’s society,” said Dr. Caitlin Dooley, GaDOE’s Deputy Superintendent for Teaching and Learning. “Computers are all around us. If education is ‘knowing the world,’ then children have to understand how computers work, how to use them effectively to communicate and inform, and how to use computers to make the world a better place.”
State School Superintendent Richard Woods said the GaDOE is committed to ensuring a focus on computer-science learning.
“Our task moving forward is making sure all Georgia students have access to these opportunities,” Superintendent Woods said. “We need to ignite their interest by providing out-of-the-box instruction that goes beyond the textbook and allows hands-on experimentation and innovation.”
“The engagement piece is key,” Dinkins said. “Once you get students engaged, you can teach them anything.”
Teacher collaboration has been key, too, including the implementation of common planning across content areas. Meanwhile, gallery walk-throughs and events like the school’s iCurate project-based learning showcase give students the opportunity to put their work on display.
Students are more motivated, more proud of their work, Shelton said. They’re learning valuable lessons about the process of critique and improvement, that their work is not always going to be perfect the first time.
“When you know there’s an end product, an end goal,” Shelton said, “you’re more likely to push through and persist.”
Learn more about computer science education in Georgia here.