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K-12 Computational Thinking Pathway

Transforming traditional education by embedding computational thinking, engineering, and human-centered design thinking for every student.

At South Fayette School District, students are designing musical instruments out of cardboard and copper wire, then programming them to play music. They’re coding commands to make robots solve challenges with motors and sensors. And that’s just in second grade. At each grade level, K to 12, students’ computational thinking grows deeper and more complex through a series of interrelated projects.



HundrED shortlisted this innovation

HundrED has shortlisted this innovation to one of its innovation collections. The information on this page has been checked by HundrED.

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January 2019
Through this pathway we are preparing our students with the knowledge, skills, dispositions and experiences they need to be successful in the future of work and life.

About the innovation

How does the K-12 Computational Thinking Pathway work?

South Fayette Township School District’s STEAM Studio model for computational thinking, creates a robust computer science, engineering, and design thinking pathway for each and every student. Our nationally recognized curriculum begins in kindergarten and scaffolds from grade to grade, building to building, continuing through high school.

South Fayette’s STEAM Studio embeds computational thinking into the curriculum, treating it as another discipline, just like history, math, English, and science. Students move from block-based coding in elementary school to writing text-based code in middle and high school. Teams of students program mobile apps using Arduino boards and Raspberry Pis, and solve problems posed by local businesses. They complete challenges using robotics, and are immersed in creative entrepreneurship as they move from ideation to 3D product prototype, learning to create products and services for social good.

To cultivate a culture of innovation at South Fayette and accommodate this transformational curriculum, the district created systems for embedding innovative learning experiences into the school day. Every school building has a dedicated maker space or prototype lab. Incubator programs enrich and deepen after-school connected learning experiences. New STEAM teacher positions and reimagined existing positions make curriculum implementation possible. And district leadership has focused on creating a profile of a graduate with the skills, knowledge, and dispositions necessary for students to be successful in the future of work in the changing global economy. Through this initiative, we have discovered joy in the creative spirit.

Through the support of the local foundations, research institutions, universities, and businesses, South Fayette is scaling this model to school districts in Pennsylvania and Kentucky to make this powerful curriculum accessible to more schools and students. Developing an education system that builds the capacities our children need to be innovative thought leaders became one of our core values, and lies at the heart of the transformation that has taken place in the district. Our hope is to share what we’ve learned to help other districts realize these capacities, and give as many students as possible the chance to experience a robust K-12 education in computational thinking.


The STEAM Studio Model for Innovation: Building Robust Learning Ecologies and Pathways in Computer Science
The STEAM Studio Model for Innovation: Building Robust Learning Ecologies and Pathways in Computer Science is a half-million dollar program awarded to South Fayette Township School District by the Pennsylvania Department of Education, under the 2018-2019 Governor’s PAsmart Expanding K-12 computer science and STEM Education Initiative and Matt’s Maker Space Foundation, is designed to expand access to high-quality computing education for all. The eight partnering districts served through this grant are a microcosm of the education systems in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, representing rural, urban, and suburban schools. The districts include: Carmichaels and Jefferson-Morgan in Greene County; Charleroi in Washington County; Brownsville Area School District in Fayette County; Beechwood Elementary, Manchester Academic Charter, Pittsburgh Allegheny K-5, and South Fayette Township school districts in Allegheny County. South Fayette leads this collaboration for the purpose of better understanding how to remove barriers and challenges for all schools in the Commonwealth.Program components include: developing a PA statewide online education platform for teaching introductory CS/STEM education across grades K-8; co-creating introductory CS/STEM curricula, assessments, and professional development; and developing a cyclical feedback loop to support quality implementation. Researchers from the University of Pittsburgh and Clemson University are evaluating ways to increase equitable participation in the computer science activities, particularly among girls and students of color by focusing on technology-driven collaborative problem-solving. Digital Promise researchers are focusing on gauging students’ and teachers’ conceptual understanding of key competencies in computer science. The grant operates from February 2019 to June 2020 directly impacting 4,399 students in the region with the potential for outreach to all educational learning agencies in the Commonwealth and beyond.
Coal to Code: Reimagining a Disrupted Economy
How do communities at the front lines of economic disruption develop the skills, resources, and public imagination to transform their narrative and economies? South Fayette School District is involved in supporting an economic redevelopment project called the Future of Work Kentucky. The district is working with Bit Source, a software development company formed by displaced coal miners, SOAR (Shaping Our Appalachian Region), and school districts in Pikeville Kentucky to integrate computational thinking into K-12 education to reimagine education for the future of work.Through this partnership we see both the immediate and the long-term impact of providing structure around this initiative, in ensuring that we are able to strengthen digital literacy, enhance computational thinking, and engage individual Kentuckians, Kentucky communities, and outside audiences alike in re-imagining Kentucky as the source of resilient, deliberate innovation.Now in its third year of partnership South Fayette has been teaching cohorts of teachers from the Pikeville Kentucky region, at the STEAM Summer Institute, to implement aspects of the K-12 vertically aligned computational thinking (CS/STEAM Learning) pathway into teaching and learning. As a result of this partnership, The Remake Learning Network in Pittsburgh has expanded membership to the Eastern Kentucky region. In May 2019 Pikeville will participate in Remake Learning Days showcasing 45 events taking place in local school districts which have resulted through this partnership.To learn more see the links below:Justice, Charles and Ford, Sam and Owens, Aileen. SXSW Presentation, “Coal to Code: Reimagining a Disrupted Economy.” https://schedule.sxsw.com/2018/events/PP79299 Bit Source: Appalachian Ingenuityhttps://www.bing.com/videos/search?q=appalachian+ingenuity&view=detail&mid=6E4F3F7299818322408C6E4F3F7299818322408C&FORM=VIRECan You Teach a Coal Miner To Code? https://www.wired.com/2015/11/can-you-teach-a-coal-miner-to-code/#.bk97ass9p
South Fayette Township School District: STEAM Innovation Summer Institute
South Fayette’s STEAM Innovation Summer Institute is currently in its fifth year of operation and has drawn national attention for its early and innovative curricular focus on bringing computing to children of all ages with a focus on creativity and the design of projects that have currency outside of school in the “real world” such as interactive digital stories, video games, practical apps, and manipulatives such as robots. The professional development program was initially designed exclusively for South Fayette instructors, but grew annually through ongoing support from the Grable Foundation, to begin to include districts from across the state of Pennsylvania and now nationally. Since its inception, the Grable Foundation challenged South Fayette to make innovation happen in the region.The expectation for attending the Institute is that participants must implement what they have learned in their classrooms during the upcoming school year. Participants report back to the Institute team twice during the year to help gauge the impact the Institute has had on teaching and learning. In terms of the content the STEAM Innovation Summer Institute has three tracks Computer Science/STEAM Learning; Visible Thinking, and Leadership in the Age of Innovation. The Institute runs for four days in the summer offering a variety of sessions serving between 100 and 120 educators annually impacting approximately 7,800 students per year. Courses are designed to help build a K-12 vertically aligned CS/STEAM pathway for school districts.The STEAM Summer Institute has built a reputation for cultivating the expertise of students as student teams take a leadership role creating curriculum and facilitating lessons for teachers. Through the years, students have led sessions on Python programming, Raspberry PI, and App Inventor with great success. At the institute we cultivate our future thought leaders.For more information see this link: <https://www.sfsdsummerinstitute.com/>
Participatory Teaching as a Pathway to Personalized Learning
Capabilities of innovative thought leaders are not reflected on standardized tests. These abilities are demonstrated through our students’ abilities to design and create both within the curriculum and in after-school connected learning opportunities. We have confidence that the STEAM Studio Model for Innovation is working based on the products and design thinking demonstrated by our students. Our students initiate and lead experiences they are passionate about.For example, the BusBudE Team is in its third year of creating and beta testing an app that helps keep students safe while traveling to and from school on the bus. During beta tests, young children scan their tag when entering the bus and an alert is sent to their parent’s letting them know the time and place their children enter and leave the bus. Students presented their app to MIT Media Lab App Inventor team and are guest bloggers for their Media Lab site. They won the Infosys Maker Award for their design and with the $10,000 grant award the high school is built a makerspace and trained teachers to bring the maker movement to high school. Now in its third iteration the team has added GPS to the product to track where buses are at all times during their route.The MyEduDecks Team spent four years designing and beta testing a pen-based software flashcard application to be used for personalized learning and assessments. Students designed and managed this educational research project with the hope of taking their product to maturity. Each of their research projects have been published in the Impact of Pen and Touch Technology on Education Human-Computer interaction series in in the following books: The Impact of Pen and Touch Technology on Education, Revolutionizing Education with Digital Ink, and Frontiers in Pen and Touch. The team has presented their work at WIPTTE & CPTTE conferences at Pepperdine University, Microsoft Research in Seattle, Brown University, and Northwestern University.MIT Media Lab App Inventor Team and the South Fayette student App Inventor Team connect in the Future of Work Kentucky project. The South Fayette team designed a curriculum and taught sessions to teachers at the 2018 STEAM Innovation Summer Institute to help teachers expand student interest in computer science. Teachers at the institute were provided with a curriculum to assist in teaching students to make apps for their mobile devices. The team also provided training to city policemen on an initiative to help build positive relationships in their community by learning App Inventor and becoming mentors for their youth. Continuing forward, a team of miners turned software developers from Bit Source, from Pikeville Kentucky and their outreach coordinator traveled to MIT Media Lab to receive training in App Inventor. After training the South Fayette team provided their curriculum to the team so they could provide this to teachers in their region. The curriculum includes app, game, and product design using advanced technologies for an invention unit. MIT’s App Inventor team met through Google hangout to discuss their work and are now working with the MIT team as play testers and evaluators of the Media Lab’s new programs.Beginning in 2013 Python student teams began creating their own unique Python courses and teaching the six-week courses as outreach to students and teachers from South Fayette and visiting schools. Each year new students would create and test their ideas on high school students. This program became the precursor to the current 8th grade Python course that all 8th graders are enrolled in as part of the computer science pathway K-12 at South Fayette. To learn more about this initiative see this link: <https://home.edweb.net/webinar/research20181114/>
Embedding Educational Research from Incubator to Launch- edWeb
Making the change from a traditional school culture to one that embraces the innovation mindset might seem overwhelming. South Fayette supports districts nationwide in developing their own unique plan for reimagining education.An example of South Fayette’s partnership with Digital Promise League of Innovative Schools in impacting change is accomplished through educational research grants, briefings, and webinars. Outreach through this partnership can be seen through a recent edWebinar hosted by the research team at Digital Promise. The webinar is designed to help districts gain an understanding of how incubators are a solution for changing the paradigm from a traditional system to a system that embraces innovation, and how educational research is used to create flexibility and support the iterative process.In this presentation and webinar, Aileen Owens and Lynette Lortz from South Fayette Township School District address:- Examples of how the district has used a variety of incubators to pilot innovative curricula for the classroom- The role of educational research in incubating and nurturing new ideas to identify what fails and to track successes- Their discoveries and how they overcame challenges along the way- Tips for starting this process and creating a pathway of success in your districtTo learn more, click on this link to the Digital Promise webinar:https://home.edweb.net/webinar/research20181114/
NSF IC4 Grant: International Clubs for Collaborative Content Creation
South Fayette began its first IC4 (International Club for Collaborative Content Creation) in 2016 funded by a U.S. National Science Foundation (NSF) Grant. This project, entitled “Research on an International Network of STEM Media-Making and Student-Led Participatory Teaching,” is a collaboration of Pepperdine University and the New York Hall of Science which promotes students working together across national and cultural boundaries in producing digital media to illustrate or explain scientific, computational, engineering or mathematical concepts and problems. It establishes a network of STEM-related digital makerspace clubs comprised of after- school students (ages 10 – 19) and teachers in the U.S. and in other countries including: Kenya, Namibia, Nigeria, Brazil, the United States and Finland. (See http://ic4.site/index.html)Currently the number of clubs has grown to over fifteen in six countries. The media produced by the students includes a range of formats such as videos, short subject films, games, computer programs and specialized applications like interactive books. The content of the media produced by the students focuses on the illustration and teaching of scientific, computational, engineering or mathematical topics. This project builds on previous work on localized media clubs by now creating an international network in which after-school students and teachers collaborate at a distance with other clubs. The central research questions for the project pertain to three themes at the intersection of learning, culture and collaboration: the impact of participatory teaching, virtual networks, and intercultural, global competence. The research combines qualitative, cross-cultural and big data research approaches. The research team has also developed a network assessment tool, adapting epistemic network analysis methods, developed at the University of Wisconsin, to the needs of this initiative.To learn more click on this link to one of the IC4 Showcase highlights: https://www.dropbox.com/s/1ehff68oocbbelm/STEMShowcaseIC4Project-2017.mp4?dl=0NSF Award information found at this link: https://www.dropbox.com/s/plu512a1mhxkefq/AISLAwardExcerpt.pdf?dl=0
K-12 Computational Thinking Initiative Gets $1 Million Boost From NSF
By Lauraine Genota on October 17, 2018 2:17 PM Education Week BlogsDigital Promise Global has received a three-year, $1 million grant from the National Science Foundation to address equitable access to computational education in public schools.The nonprofit's project, titled "Developing Inclusive K-12 Computing Pathways for the League of Innovative Schools," is a research-practice partnership between Digital Promise and the members of its flagship network of public school districts.The partnership will set out "to design, study, and improve 12 school districts' computational thinking pathways," and focus primarily on addressing access and creating equitable learning experiences in computational education for underserved students, according to news release. Computational thinking is basically a form of learning in which students use problem-solving approaches and computing techniques to show problems and then determine their solutions."Computation is super important to kids' futures," Jeremy Roschelle, executive director of Learning Sciences Research for Digital Promise Global, said in an interview. "We need to start early. We don't want kids to tune out this opportunity."Roschelle pointed out that there are a lot of computational thinking resources that teachers can choose from, but that raises a lot of questions about what to use and why. Districts have done a lot of experimentation, but "now we need to figure out what we can do consistently," he said.The project will focus on three "core" districts, each having its own goals to solve an equity problem:- Iowa City Community School District, Iowa, which has 14,000 students, aims to increase participation in computing among minority and English-Language Learners.- Indian Prairie School District, Illinois, which serves 28,000 students, wants to improve achievement for students from low-income families.- Talladega County Schools, Alabama, which has 7,500 students, plans to work to improve achievement among girls and low-income students.The project will also involve nine "pilot" districts, which will also work to improve equity and access for target groups. The nine pilot districts are Compton Unified School District (Calif.); Elizabeth Forward School District (Pa.); Franklin West School District (Vt.); Henry County Public Schools (Va.); Highline Public Schools (Wash.); Kettle Moraine School District (Wis.); Mineola Public Schools (N.Y.); South Fayette School District (Pa.); Utica Community Schools (Mich.).Every district will define its own pathway, or course of action, in terms of implementing computational thinking, Roschelle said. But each year of the three-year partnership will have a different focus: the first year will focus on the perception of the pathway, the second year on implementation and student experience, and the third year will emphasize how to continue improving the pathway.For more information see this link: http://blogs.edweek.org/edweek/DigitalEducation/2018/10/digital_promise_national_science_foundation_grant_computational_thinking_pathways.html
Students Who Teach, It's All Part Of Remaking The Education System
Beginning in 2013 Python student teams began designing and teaching their own unique six-week Python programming courses as outreach to students and teachers from South Fayette and visiting schools. Each year new students would create and test their ideas on high school students. By 2015 South Fayette had its first young woman, Ashumi Rokadia lead this initiative and it soon became clear that she had a different mission in mind. She wanted to get more young women interested and excited about computer programming. For this reason, she proposed offering a Python course for students in grades 6th – 8th. Ashumi’s instincts were right. She enlisted a team of five and they set to work teaching the classes. A high enrollment of 44 students made it necessary to offer two separate cohorts. There were 19 young women who enrolled in the course with several young women stating that they wanted to be “the next Ashumi” one day. One of South Fayette’s teachers took the course and soon helped facilitate the second cohort. Their course became an offering for the STEAM Summer Institute where they provided outreach to teachers in Southwestern Pennsylvania. This program became the precursor to the current 8th grade Python course that all 8th graders are enrolled in as part of the computer science pathway K-12 at South Fayette.The district developed the new Python course through an incubator with the Teknowledge team from Carnegie Mellon University department of computer science. The South Fayette student team and the Teknowledge team with the director of technology and innovation joined forces and ran the course as a 10-week after-school program with 18 students. After each session the team met to discuss the successes and challenges of each lesson. After the incubator was complete a new iteration of the course was tested again at the summer institute and implemented the following school term.To learn more about these initiatives take a look at the following articles published on public radio and as a webinar sponsored by Digital Promise League of Innovative Schools: https://www.wesa.fm/post/students-who-teach-its-all-part-remaking-education-system#stream/0​https://home.edweb.net/webinar/research20181114/​
Connecting to the Future of Work through Strategic Planning
As described in The Future of Learning: Education in the Era of Partners in Code authored by Knowledgworks, we are entering a new era of work fueled by advances in artificial intelligence and the decline of full-time employees. Combining new technologies with cultural, economic and institutional shifts means that we must ensure that education systems support the knowledge, skills, dispositions and experiences that our students need to be successful in the changing global economy.The district, led by superintendent Dr. Ken Lockette, is utilizing a carefully designed three-phased, multi-tiered approach to the development of the comprehensive plan. The initial phase of the planning process involved a carefully orchestrated retreat specifically designed to analyze and evaluate core beliefs of the organization, as well as take a look at the future of work and innovation in the region. Redefining Readiness has been the foundational centerpiece for this work.This strategic planning work session was utilized to develop a vision of the portrait of a graduate. The entire leadership team participated and became engaged in numerous design and problem-solving activities.The second phase of the plan involved gathering data from all stakeholder groups. This data informed the direction the district has decided to move in with our needs analysis and action plan. The third phase involved three stakeholder meetings with a broad group. These meetings introduced the group to one another, outlining the process, and framing the conversation on the future of our graduates. We began crafting the mission, vision, and guiding principles of the organization in the first session. In the second session, we identified the overall objectives of the district based on the data and needs identified. The third meeting included identifying action planning steps for making progress towards our goals and identifying the best practices for teaching and learning associated with those goals.Over the next few years the district will be aligning curriculum and organizational strategies to create an educational system that prepares our students with core skills and practices to navigate and thrive in the future of work in their career, and in life.For more information regarding the frameworks outlined by district leadership on the future of work click on the following links:http://www.knowledgeworks.org/sites/default/files/u1/redefining-readiness.pdf  https://www.alleghenyconference.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/12/018_InflectionPoint.pdfhttps://www.weforum.org/reports/the-future-of-jobs-report-2018
Storytelling by Design
Design thinking is a methodology that makes visible problems and potential solutions while leveraging human interactions to solve the problem. Storytelling by design is course created by Jim Hausman, English teacher from South Fayette. The course utilizes human-centered design thinking in a project-based environment where students craft stories that resonate with audiences and inspire social change. Students learn to develop robust storytelling skills, integrate stories into dynamic presentations and document stories to be shared with others. One of the core outcomes of this course is to connect authentic learning to the curriculum. Storytelling is a business skill, therefore students have the opportunity to practice marketing and communication while sharing the everyday stories of local businesses. By strategically infusing design thinking into K-12 curriculum, we are teaching kids to collaborate, thinking skills, and solving real-world problems across disciplines.  
Girls STEAM Team
High School girls lead a STEAM club for the purpose of fostering passion in young females throughout science, technology, engineering, arts and mathematics.At South Fayette, STEAM-centered clubs operating alongside the curriculum build students’ understanding and excitement for computer science, computational thinking, engineering and human-centered design. High school student, Ashumi Rokadia, saw a gap in opportunity for HS females and approached her teacher about starting a Girls STEAM team. Girls STEAM team is driven by the girls’ passions and has focused on engineering with Rube Goldberg contraption contests, computer science through website design, and engaging young females in their community. Stacey Barth, a high school teacher from South Fayette, champions the team and continues the legacy.

Implementation steps

Articulate a well-defined vision
Begin with your leadership team. Create literature groups to share new ideas as you formulate your own. Make visits to institutions that are  following similar paths and learn from them. Then articulate a well-defined vision for each stakeholder group as you begin reaching out.
Create a culture of innovation

Engage your leadership team and your teachers in book study groups to begin developing the idea of the emerging innovation process. Here are two thought-provoking books to begin the process of changing your school culture: 

Little Bets: How Breakthrough Ideas Emerge from Small Discoveries by Peter Sims 

Creativity, Inc.: Overcoming the Unseen Forces That Stand in the Way of True Inspiration by Ed Catmull

Build a team and structure to implement & protect new ideas

Institutions are not designed to embrace new ideas because new ideas are imperfect. It's easier to manage an institution that runs smoothly. Therefore create a team and structure in which to protect new ideas and nurture their growth. Through time we created new STEAM teacher positions for each building, remade existing positions to better serve the computer science pathway and built spaces (STEAM studios and maker spaces)  that supported this new type of learning.

Learn more here: <https://www.dropbox.com/s/3q5ozx2g63xtw4y/SFSD_MAKE%20YOUR%20FIRST%20LITTLE%20BET_2018-2019.pptx?dl=0>

Use incubators to test and grow new ideas

Incubators take many forms. They can be simple action research projects in the classroom, or they can be after-school connected learning experiences that through time and after development, work their way into the classroom. Create an incubator, a proof of concept, and track its success and challenges. Be ready to pivot when your discoveries take you in a new direction. Teachers and stakeholders gain confidence when they see the results.

To learn more follow this link: <https://home.edweb.net/webinar/research20181114/>

Value and Promote Student and Teacher Agency
Focus on developing an environment where teachers are valued and can teach with their vision and students can discover their passion. Everyone in your organization needs the opportunity to develop their voice and to experience being creative thought leaders. The curriculum and the educational process must reflect strategies that open opportunities for all learners. Evaluate your entire system and slowly redefine all that you know to meet these needs.
Prepare your students for the future of work

As described in The Future of Learning: Education in the Era of Partners in Code authored by Knowledgworks, we are entering a new era of work fueled by advances in artificial intelligence and the decline of full-time employees. Combining new technologies with cultural, economic and institutional shifts means that we must ensure that education systems support the knowledge, skills, dispositions and experiences that our students need to be successful in the changing global economy. Our district is aligning curriculum and organizational strategies to create an educational system that prepares our students with core skills and practices to navigate and thrive in the future of work in their career, and in life. Check out Knowledgeworks for an easy to follow framework. <https://knowledgeworks.org/resources/forecast-4/>

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