by Jeff Cummings, Wellington Catholic District School Board
The Wellington Catholic District School Board (WCDSB) is developing creative ways of promoting computer science at the secondary school level, with a focus on engaging all students. We are creating a Grade 10 credit package (2 credits) where a student can earn their compulsory Grade 10 Math credit and a Grade 10 Computer Science credit. St James Catholic High School already has enough students (approximately 50% female) already registered to create 2 sections for this cohort. In addition, Bishop MacDonnell Catholic High School has 20 students signed up for a credit package. An exciting program will be developed at St. John Bosco Catholic High School which will focus on a flexible model of delivery for students entering the Alternative Education environment. The new program will allow students to see how computer science can be used to dynamically model the mathematics concepts they are studying, and help them develop robust conceptual understanding. There is a natural link between mathematics and computer science and we plan to make this explicit for the benefit of both subjects. We are hoping to increase engagement for all students, address the low participation rate of female students, and increase the number of students interested in the Computer Science and Technology pathway.
This project complements the focus of our CODE-funded project in grades 3-6, where teachers are integrating coding in mathematics teaching and learning, to help young students model, investigate and develop conceptual understanding of mathematical relationships.
Wellington CDSB is a partner on the new KNAER (Knowledge Network for Applied Education Research) Mathematics Knowledge Network (www.mkn-rcm.ca) and on the leadership team of the MKN’s Community of Practice on Computational Thinking in Mathematics Education, which will inform classroom practice and help create innovative learning environments across the province that take advantage of computational thinking.
- With the decline of computer science studies at the secondary school level, we have seen a smaller ratio of female student enrollment. Our PD will focus strategies and practices that create inclusive and collaborative learning environments.
- Computer science and mathematics educators will collaborate to identify computational problems that relate to mathematics, and design opportunities where students model, abstract, test, refine, share and communicate about their coded representations of mathematics relationships and concepts; and at the same time experience them in “tangible” ways through the computational thinking affordances of automation and dynamic modelling.
- Our PD focus is on teacher agency and capacity-building, with opportunities to network, learn collaboratively, and solve teacher-identified problems of practice, and share their experience and learning through classroom documentaries (in collaboration with TVO’s teachontario.ca.
In June/July 2017, we will bring together 12 Wellington CDSB grade 10 computer science and mathematics teachers for 3 days, to design integrated experiences that address curriculum from both subjects, to be used as the new program is implemented across Wellington CDSB in 2017/2018. George Gadanidis (Western University), who has experience designing, teaching and researching integrated computer science and mathematics courses, will facilitate these sessions. We will also invite 2 representatives from other school districts Below is an outline of the 3 days:
DAY 1. A) Share and discuss the project’s curriculum goal of computer science and mathematics education integration. B) Identify concepts and relationships that may be modelled through programming. C) Identify computer science concepts that make use of mathematical concepts and structures. D) Develop the scope and sequence of curriculum integration.
DAY 2. A) In the morning, teachers will work in teams of 4, each on a different topic, to develop a learning activity that uses computer science concepts to abstract, automate, and dynamically model mathematics concepts and relationships. B) In the afternoon, the 4 groups will share and discuss their learning activities, and refine based on the feedback they receive.
DAY 3. The sequence of Day 2 will be repeated, to create 4 more learning activities.
The grade 10 Computer Science course is introductory and students will have a variety of knowledge and experience. We embrace Papert’s idea of a low floor (where student may engage with minimal prerequisite knowledge) and a high ceiling (where concepts may be extended to more complex relationships and more varied representations). We have used this model successfully in our work in Grades 3-6 classrooms in the Wellington CDSB, where we have coupled computational thinking with mathematics teaching and learning. We will provide learning experiences with multiple entry and extension points, where students can be successful and challenged, in a safe learning environment. While we want all students to meet the grade-specific curriculum expectations, we also don’t these expectations to limit what students can learn. We aim to provide students learning experiences that motivate them to reach their potential.
Integrating, where beneficial, the teaching and learning of computer science and math concepts and relationships, will offer meaningful cross-curricular connections for students.
In computer science, we want to shift away from students working individually, in a computer lab setting, and shift towards students working collaboratively, exchanging ideas, helping and learning from one another, and learning how to work with others to solve problems and complete projects. And we want this type of learning to spill over into our mathematics teaching and learning.
Computer science as a subject area has been in decline, with enrollments decreasing, and with many students typically avoiding the subject. We cannot simply keep doing what we have been doing. We are proposing major change in how we have structured computer science education so far. We are creating a cohort model for grade 10 students, where they can study both computer science and mathematics in an integrated fashion. We believe that will benefit both subjects. So far, we are very encouraged by the number of students that have enrolled in this cohort option, and by the gender balance that we are seeing.
Our decision to develop our model with a leading role for teachers will help, as it will not as easily be perceived as a top-down initiative.
We will face computer science teaching expertise obstacles. We believe that the resources we will be creating will form a good base for supporting teachers to engage and grow.