November Update on CS in Schools

(This is a cross-post from our CS in Schools website.)

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.

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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 work with them almost daily. 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 teaching, 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.

If you’d like to help us, there’s two three things you can do! First, if you’re an experienced software engineer, please consider volunteering. Second, if you work in the tech industry, invite me to come and speak to your developers about being involved as volunteers. Third, if you want to support our work, please lobby your employer to donate to the programme. Oh, and if you’re awesome at building websites, we need help!

Programme Overview

CS in Schools is part of RMIT‘s Policy and Impact Portfolio. It’s a charity 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 teaching workshop (onJanuary 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 deliver the syllabus 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
  • A one-term (or semester) Year 7 computing subject of two (or sometimes three) hours per week
  • Providing everything that’s needed to teach the subject, including lesson plans, assignments, hardware, and software
  • Covering the “harder parts” of the Victorian DigiTech curriculum, with a focus on the coding skills. In total, we’ll together deliver around half of the recommended 40 hours of the curriculum, and expect that the other half is delivered in other subjects

Volunteering

We have pivoted our model to a volunteer-based scheme. We believe this is more scalable than our initial approach when we conceived the programme, where we planned to hire teachers with a computing background. We feel great about our new approach, which is similar to TEALS, In2Science, AppsForGood, and a few others.

The 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 teaching 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.

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