Integrating Computational Literacy: Don’t Panic, You’ve Got This!

11 Feb 2022

Efforts to create a computationally literate population are taking hold. In the United States, K-8 teachers are expected to integrate computational thinking so that all students gain experience solving problems through computer automation. This blog post provides background information on computer science education initiatives and offers four guiding principles to ease the minds of non-computer science teachers as they prepare to integrate computer science into their curriculum.

Theresa Goltermann, Curriculum Developer and Middle School Teacher

The following was written by Theresa Goltermann, a curriculum developer and middle school teacher and DoD STEM Ambassador. DoD STEM Ambassadors work with the Defense STEM Education Consortium (DSEC) to advance STEM outreach for students who are underrepresented in STEM and/or military connected. Goltermann was selected by Center for Excellence in Education, a DSEC partner, as their DoD STEM ambassador for the 2020-2021 school year.

I love teaching robotics to my middle school students, but I know there is more to computer science than coding and robotics. If you’re required to integrate computer science concepts into your K-8 classroom next year, don’t panic. You won’t have to program robots if you don’t want to. There are plenty of standards for you and your colleagues to disaggregate and disseminate by subject. Once you read the standards, your fears will dissolve. You will see that computer science is about logic, problem-solving and creativity—concepts that transcend all academic subjects.

Background

You may have heard about the National Science Foundation’s Computer Science for All goal to provide all U.S. students with the opportunity to participate in computer science (CS) and computational thinking (CT) education at all pre-K-12 levels. After the American Innovation and Competitiveness Act (Pub. L. No. 114-329, tit. III, § 310, 130 Stat. 3012) was signed in December 2016, nearly all 50 U.S. states put CS education initiatives in place. The federal government’s 2018-2023 five-year strategic plan, Charting A Course for Success: America’s Strategy for STEM Education, included "Build Computational Literacy” as one of four pathways. The federal strategic plan emphasizes that “teacher education should prioritize lesson design that incorporates CT and CS and considers these skills to be as fundamental to education as reading, writing, mathematics and science.” The Computer Science Standards of Learning for Virginia Public Schools requires pre-K-12 students to “develop a foundation of CS knowledge and learn new approaches to problem-solving that captures the power of computational thinking to become both users and creators of computing technology.” Finally, the International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE), a thought leader in learning and teaching with technology, identified computational thinking as one of seven Standards for Students.

Now that you know that computational literacy is coming, you may be a little concerned about how you will find time to teach one more subject in your already-packed curriculum. And you may be very worried about your own CS knowledge and understanding. Never fear: here are four guiding principles for computational literacy integration to ease your concerns.

Four Guiding Principles: Steps to Ease your Mind

First, know your acronyms:

  • Computational literacy (CL): The federal strategic plan explains that CL encompasses digital literacy, cyber safety, computational thinking, and data science.
  • Computer science (CS): The K-12 Computer Science Framework (k12cs.org  ) states that CS is “knowing how and why computers work.”
  • Computational thinking (CT) involves teaching strategies and thought processes involved in solving problems using algorithms that can be carried out by a computer.

Don’t panic. Unless you are credentialed to teach CS, you will not need to know how to program using higher-order languages such as Java or C++. Instead, proudly refer to your efforts as “developing the CL of your students by integrating introductory CS concepts while providing opportunities for CT.”

Second, know your state standards for CS and your state policies on integrating CS (here is a summary of CS implementation policies by state). If your state has not yet implemented standards, get ahead of the inevitable by reading the K-12 Computer Science Framework. Then, find the alignment between your course standards and the CS standards. For example, in Virginia, 2nd-grade CS standard 2.12 addresses creating models with and without a computer. This CS standard readily aligns with 2nd-grade math and science concepts. Virginia’s 8th-grade CS standard 8.10 addresses incorporating images and information into projects, which conveniently relate to 8th-grade English and science standards for information sourcing (see the table below). More crosswalks like these are available for your state standards.

Cross-Curricular Integration Alignment
Virginia Computer Science Standard of LearningOpportunity for Integration with Virginia’s Standards of Learning
Data and Analysis Strand
VDOE Standard 2.12: The student will create a model of a physical object or process in order to show relationships with or without a computing device (e.g., water cycle, butterfly life cycle, seasonal weather patterns).
Mathematics: 2.1a (using models to represent relationships in proportionality)
Science: 2.3b (model phase changes); 2.4 (modeling the life cycles of plants and animals); 2.6 (modeling weather patterns); 2.7 (modeling plant and animal behavioral response to seasonal change)
Impacts of Computing Strand
VDOE Standard 8.10 The student will evaluate online and print sources for appropriateness and credibility.
English: 8.3b,d,f,g (use media and visual literacy skills to analyze the value of online content) Science: PS.1f (gather, read, and synthesize information from multiple appropriate sources and assess the credibility, accuracy, and possible bias of each publication)
Source: 2017 Virginia Computer Science Standards of Learning

Third, become familiar with the core CS concepts and CT practices (see the concepts and practices of the K-12 Computer Science Framework below). Reviewing the framework will help you break down barriers and understand key terms and concepts. The concept of algorithms and programming (also known as coding) is only one of the five core concepts. The other core concepts include understanding networks and the internet, computing systems, data and analysis, and impacts of computing. As a teacher integrating CL, you will be spending most of your time attending to the core practices, which represent personal and computational problem-solving strategies in support of the core concepts. For example, students may collaborate to write a step-by-step procedure for a new dance routine or look for patterns on a map of the global Internet.

The Concepts and Practices of the K-12 Computer Science Framework
Core ConceptsCore Practices
1. Computing Systems
2. Networks and the Internet
3. Data and Analysis
4. Algorithms and Programming
5. Impacts of Computing
1. Fostering an Inclusive Computing Culture
2. Collaborating Around Computing
3. Recognizing and Defining Computational Problems
4. Developing and Using Abstractions
5. Creating Computational Artifacts
6. Testing and Refining Computational Artifacts
7. Communicating about Computing

Fourth, start gathering ideas for lessons and project-based activities that integrate awesome CS experiences into your curriculum, or better yet, plan a collaborative transdisciplinary project to implement a lot of standards at once. Remember, the purpose of integrating CL is to provide students with experiences demonstrating the power of computation and help them make sense of their world. To effectively integrate CL, decontextualize the core practices, meaning, focus less on the rote memorization of vocabulary and more on the vocabulary usage. Emphasize guided inquiry which encourages students to create unique projects. And encourage student independence by giving them time to dive deep into a skill and reflect on how their work relates to CS processes.

Here are some fantastic resources:

Our education system is evolving to ensure that CS is part of students’ daily lives. It’s time to get on board. What are you waiting for? Follow these guiding principles for integrating computational literacy: Recognize the value of CL for all, find your state CS standards and look for alignment, clarify the core concepts and practices and peruse resources for lesson ideas. Finally, don’t panic! Sign up for free training from professional education organizations Code.org and Computer Science Teachers Association. Once you get started, you’ll have fun learning right along with your students. And maybe you will be so excited about your own learning that you too will want to program a robot.

Resources

Charting a Course for Success: America’s Strategy for STEM Education. (2018).
Link To PDF

K-12 Computer Science Framework. (2016).
k12cs.org

International Society for Technology in Education Student Standards
iste.org

Computer Science Standards of Learning for Virginia Public Schools. (2017).
Link To PDF

ABOUT THERESA GOLTERMANN

Theresa Goltermann is a middle-school career and technical education (CTE) teacher and developer of CTE STEM and computer science curricula. Theresa has made an impact in her school by increasing female and minority enrollment in STEM programs. Theresa also coaches and facilitates student involvement in Girls Who Code, FIRST Lego League Robotics, and SeaPerch ROV.  Theresa was honored by the Virginia Air Force Association as 2014 Teacher of the Year and Virginia Department of Education as 2018 Teacher of the Year Finalist. She holds a master’s degree in educational leadership and administration from The George Washington University, an education specialist degree from Regent University, and is pursuing an Ed.D. in educational technology and online learning from Regent University.

ABOUT CENTER FOR EXCELLENCE IN EDUCATION

The Center for Excellence in Education (CEE) nurtures careers of excellence and leadership in STEM for academically talented high school and college students. CEE encourages collaboration between and among leaders of the world. CEE’s programs challenge students and assist them on a long-term basis to become creators, inventors, scientists, and leaders of the 21st century. CEE sponsors three programs: Research Science Institute, USA Biolympiad, and Teacher Enrichment Program. Research Science Institute alumni represent six continents, and CEE program alumni travel as guests of foreign nations and educational organizations to promote mutual understanding in the world. For more information, visit cee.org.