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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.

Computing in Schools

This is the first update on our plans to improve computing education in Australian high schools. We look forward to sharing an update every month.

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Summary

We are focused on building and delivering a new computing subject for high schools, and helping teachers become successful at independently and confidently teaching the subject. The programme costs nothing for schools or students in 2019 through the generous support of donors.

Our model works like this:

  • We are hiring teachers who are experts in computing
  • We are planning to put a teacher in a classroom with a teacher from a school that we’re helping
    • In the first term, our teacher teaches the students, and the school’s teacher learns in a support role
    • In the second term, the school’s teacher teaches, and our teacher is there in the classroom to provide full time support
  • After two terms, the school continues teaching the subject. We’re available on call to support the school
  • Our teacher moves to a new school and repeats the same process

Our programme is built around a new foundational computing subject:

  • A compulsory Year 7 computing subject of around two teaching hours per week for one term
  • An introduction to coding and other computational-thinking fundamentals
  • Coverage of around half of the hours required by the Victorian Digital Technology Curriculum for Year 7, and focused on the “hard parts” that school’s struggle to teach
  • A fun, engaging programme that shows kids how computing is important in the real-world

In 2019, we will pilot this new subject and teaching model. The goals are to:

  • Teach kids how to write code
  • Help teachers in schools become confident at teaching coding
  • Teach the subject in seven to ten Victorian high schools
  • Teach at least 1,000 students, and help at least 10 teachers
  • Assess the learning outcomes to understand whether we’ve been effective in teaching basic coding and computational thinking skills, and whether we’ve taught teachers how to confidently deliver the materials

After 2019, we plan to roll this programme out across Victoria, expand to other Australian states, and begin work on subjects for Years 8, 9, and 10.

Why are we doing this?

Computer science is as important today as Maths, English, and the (other) Sciences. We believe it should be compulsory at school.  Even if a child isn’t going to become a Software Engineer, they are almost certainly going to work in a field that will be revolutionised by hardware and software. It’s critical to understand how software is built and what’s possible using a computer.

Most Australian kids aren’t learning the fundamentals of computing at school. There’s often a 3D printer or robots at a school, and maybe the kids have been on an excursion where they’ve built something technical. But that’s not even close to what’s needed if we’re going to help our children be ready for the jobs of the future. Our kids need to learn how to code, in the same way they need to learn how to read and write, and understand mathematics fundamentals.

Kids need to know how to break down problems into steps, and how to represent those steps in a programming language so that a computer can solve a problem. Building on these basics, students can learn how to write applications that do everything from play games to automate common tasks to solve real-world problems. More broadly, they need to know how to create software, so that they can be part of creating new jobs, industries, and technologies that are changing our world.

Nine of the ten most valuable companies today are technology companies including Alphabet (Google), Amazon, Apple, Microsoft, and Facebook. These companies are full of computing professionals, and they’re creating the software and hardware that is changing our world. The next generation of companies could be here in Australia, but that’ll only happen if we have the people with the skills and talents in computer science. Fixing computing education in schools is a critical first step.

Our 2019 plans

In 2019, we’ve committed to teaching 1,000 students, training 10 teachers, and working with 7 to 10 schools. Success is not only hitting these goals, but leaving these schools and teachers with the skills and confidence to continue teaching the programme in 2020 and beyond. RMIT University has agreed to independently assess whether we’ve been successful at the conclusion of our 2019 pilot.

When we work with a school, we’re going to provide the full teaching materials, hardware, and software that are needed to succeed. More importantly, we’re also providing a teacher who’ll help in the classroom and who has two goals: make sure the students have fun learning new skills, and make sure the school can confidently continue teaching computing without our hands-on support.

Progress so far

We started this project around three months ago. So far, we have:

  • Signed-up three schools, including Toorak College and two others that we will announce soon
  • Raised money. We have promises of nearly enough money to fund out 2019 pilot, but we’d always love more (because it makes more possible — we’re happy to think bigger)
  • Focused our plans. There were many possible starting points, but we have decided on a Year 7 compulsory subject for our pilot
  • Sought corporate support. We want industry to stand behind what we’re doing, so that schools are confident the programme is helping their students develop real-world skills. We will announce corporate supporters soon
  • Received a commitment from RMIT University to independently assess the educational outcomes of our programme

Focus for August 2018

This month, we are focused on the following next steps:

  • Signing-up more Victorian schools. We are particularly looking for public schools, but we’re open to working with any school. It costs nothing. Can you help introduce us to a school? Send us a note at hugh@hughwilliams.com or selina@selinawilliams.com
  • Establishing our venture as a formal entity. We are exploring becoming a registered charity, which means that donors can give us money and receive a tax deduction. It turns out this isn’t easy, and we’ve enlisted the help of lawyers who specialise in establishing charities
  • Hiring teachers. Now that we’ve signed-up a few schools, we’re ready to hire our first teacher. It’s critical that they’re a great teacher with a computing background. Their role will be helping build materials, as well as teaching and training in 2019. If you have any referrals, send us a note at hugh@hughwilliams.com or selina@selinawilliams.com
  • Wooing corporate supporters. It’ll make a huge difference to everyone if they know that major names believe in our programme. This will help us with funding, signing-up schools, and developing the programme itself

Perhaps surprisingly, the hardest thing so far has been signing-up schools. Many schools don’t even bother to respond to an email. Once they do, it’s a long “sales cycle” from a first meeting to convincing a school to make room in their Year 7 curriculum for computing. We’re pretty surprised about this, but perhaps this will change as we sign up more schools, have more corporate support, and our programme gains a reputation. In any case, if you’d like to help, the most valuable thing you can do today is introduce us to a decision maker in a Victorian public school — we need to sign-up another four to seven schools over the next month or two.

If you’d like to join our mailing list to receive this monthly update in email (and a little more information), send us a note at hugh@hughwilliams.com or selina@selinawilliams.com

Thanks for reading all the way to the bottom. We’ll post another update in a month.

Best wishes, Hugh and Selina.