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Aileen Owens
Dr. Ken Lockette, Superintendent

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

K-12 Computational Thinking Pathway

South Fayette Township School District, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
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.

How does the K-12 Computational Thinking Pathway work?

Aileen Owens, Director of Technology and Innovation, South Fayette Township School District
“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.”

Aileen Owens, Director of Technology and Innovation, South Fayette Township School District

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.

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Innovation Overview
5 - 18
Age Group
Focus areas
Tips for implementation
You can begin, as we did, using freeware such as Scratch, App Inventor, and Python as the foundation for block-based and text-based coding. We highly suggest using Carnegie Mellon University's CMU CS Academy for the high school programming classes; a world-class, online, interactive high school computer science curriculum in Python that is entirely free. Other free resources include an online platform of our lessons that are designed to help your teachers implement and shape your district's computational thinking vertical alignment. In time you may want to add external devices such as EV3 Mindstorm robotics, Sphero, microbits, Hummingbird Robotics kits, Finch robots, and more so that students can move programming from the virtual to the physical world. Most importantly, it takes a sprinkling of passion, ingenuity, resourcefulness, persistence, and the ability to create, imagine and innovate -- wrapped in a culture of deeper learning. You can do this!
Contact information
Aileen Owens
Dr. Ken Lockette, Superintendent

See this innovation in action

The STEAM Studio Model for Innovation: Building Robust Learning Ecologies and Pathways in Computer Science
Coal to Code: Reimagining a Disrupted Economy
South Fayette Township School District: STEAM Innovation Summer Institute
Participatory Teaching as a Pathway to Personalized Learning
Embedding Educational Research from Incubator to Launch- edWeb
NSF IC4 Grant: International Clubs for Collaborative Content Creation
K-12 Computational Thinking Initiative Gets $1 Million Boost From NSF
Students Who Teach, It's All Part Of Remaking The Education System


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Inspired to implement this? Here's how...

Articulate a well-defined vision
Know your "why." Prepare vision-casting sessions with your leadership team to create a vision that meets your unique institutional goals.
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Create a culture of innovation
Small-scale experimentation and the iterative process is inherent in developing a culture of creativity and innovation.
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Build a team and structure to implement & protect new ideas
Remake existing positions and develop new ones as you seek to bring your vision to life.
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Use incubators to test and grow new ideas
Incubators are the testing ground for success
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Value and Promote Student and Teacher Agency
Empower your teachers to teach with their vision - and learners to discover their passion
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Prepare your students for the future of work
Create a portrait of a graduate and begin outlining the knowledge, skills, dispositions and experiences our students need to be successful in the global economy -- and in life.
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