Park City schools plan for full coding curriculum
Plans in place for fifth- and sixth-grades
November 1, 2017
The first-grade students in the Park City School District who began learning the basics of coding two years ago are growing up, and the program must now grow with them.
The coding initiative, which is funded by a partnership between the district and the Park City Education Foundation, has expanded to all Park City elementary schools from kindergarten to fourth-grade, and there are plans to start a program for fifth-graders next year and secondary schools the following year, said Kim Quapp, technology instructional coach at Parley's Park Elementary School.
She has been on the coding implementation team since the pilot program during the 2015-16 school year. Other members of the team include: Crystal Giles, Jeremy Ranch Elementary School; Craig Roberson, McPolin Elementary School; and Mike Burton, Trailside Elementary School.
Although writing a district-wide initiative while simultaneously implementing it has felt like building a plane that is already in flight, she is excited to see the program's success.
This year, Kathy Einhorn, associate superintendent of teaching, learning and technology, and Danny Fisher, CTE specialist, have been meeting with teachers at Ecker Hill Middle School, Treasure Mountain Junior High and Park City High School to discuss a cohesive coding curriculum at all schools. The current coding program at the high school taught by Kelly Henderson will need to be rewritten as well because by the time students reach high school, their knowledge of the subject will already be advanced, Quapp said.
The new high school course will be ahead of anything the state currently offers, so the district must seek help beyond the state's resources, Einhorn said.
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Staying ahead of the game is important to the district so that students keep building on their knowledge. Luckily, the skills students learn from coding are easily transferable to other disciplines.
"We're looking at how we get them to integrate those skills into projects and other curriculum areas to use their coding as an application skill," Einhorn said. "But also, how we continue that alignment of computer science courses (and) digital media courses so that those students really do continue to grow."
As the initiative expands, Einhorn is focused on building a curriculum with teachers at Ecker Hill so that the school's coding program will be ready in two years. Since administrators are not able to add a specialized course into the already-full sixth-grade curriculum, they will need to incorporate coding into science courses or create a coding club for students.
After sixth grade, no concrete curriculum decisions have been made. One option is to have a specialized course dedicated to coding. Or, teachers could integrate coding into any of the STEM courses in the secondary schools. If grades are realigned in the future, that might allow for more project-based learning integrating coding, Einhorn said.
Quapp said that integrating coding into traditional courses might not be as difficult as it seems, and she has heard success stories from a number of teachers. Kindergarteners who were learning about bee pollination, for example, programmed bee robots to move along a grid and travel between flowers and their hive.
"The skills that we've seen these kids adapt are unbelievable," Quapp said. "We're trying to create a group of thinkers and problem solvers for the future. That is something they can take into any area of their life."
The program is also teaching students resilience. Since students are taught during coding time that problems will come up and that they will have to "debug it," they are able to identify problems, take a deep breath and solve them. Plus, they are learning to ask for help from their peers when they have a setback.
"These are skills that, for adults, are sometimes difficult, and we're seeing our kindergarteners do it," Quapp said.
By teaching every student at a young age how to code, the district is also aiming to remove gender biases that often keep young girls away from STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) subjects during their educational careers.
And students who might struggle in traditional subjects frequently excel in coding.
"Everybody has an area they can shine," Quapp said. "Some students may have struggled somewhere else, but coding is their place to shine."
Editor’s note: This article has been updated to more accurately reflect a statement made by Kim Quapp.