When There’s a Will There’s a Way: Getting Creative with Funding Computer Science Education

Four years ago, educators in Butler County, Ohio were facing a crisis. They wanted to implement modern curriculum and teacher training in schools across the county in order to re-engage students and prepare them for the rapidly changing job market. But, like in many other regions, Butler County’s resources were scarce. Before the educators could even think about making a change, they got stuck on one question: “Can we afford this?”

In their moment of doubt, they were able to turn the way they were thinking about funding inside out. They flipped the question from, “Can we afford this?” to, “Which organization can fund this?” It was not a matter of whether or not the funds were available, but a matter of who could provide the funds. This shift in thinking set them free!

The Butler County Educational Service Center put together a grant proposal for Ohio’s Straight A Fund. And . . . voila! A new curriculum aimed at impacting 3,028 students from grades 7 to 12, was implemented in Butler County’s classrooms. Students across the region were:


  • designing games for their programming course
  • writing stories for a screenwriting course
  • building digital portfolios to showcase their projects

 

 

You too can find creative ways to pay for curriculum or professional development. And once you recognize there is plenty of available funding out there, you can think less about the price tag and more about the number of students a program would impact or how fun a PD experience would be.

Whether you are a teacher or a school leader, tons of grant programs are available to you—and made specifically for you.

Resources for Finding Grant Programs

Grant Programs for School Leaders

Grant Programs for Teachers

Going Free-Form

You can get even more creative when it comes to finding funding. One way is looking to local companies for support. For example, you might send a funding proposal to a local technology company, and ask them to sponsor your school’s computer science PD. For decades, schools have fostered successful partnerships with local businesses:

“Since 1990, the Lees Summit (Mo.) School District has worked with 250 local business partners, including corporations that send experts to the high school’s marketing classes and local banks that deploy volunteers to help teach math in elementary classrooms. For even longer, the Anchorage (Alaska) Public Schools has cultivated relationships with 500 local businesses and organizations, which do everything from providing mentors to funding school projects.” (District Administration, 2012 via EdSurge, 2016.)

If you are writing a grant proposal or business partner proposal from scratch, here are some foundational questions to start with (adapted from the CS4HS Google Grant Questions):

  • What kinds of organizations, local offices of education, etc. are you working with or planning to work with in developing and implementing this opportunity?
  • What are up to five learning objectives your opportunity will achieve?
  • What is the learning format and agenda?
  • How is the content relevant to computer science?
  • How will you make sure concepts are taught effectively in the classroom? (You may want to include a quotation from a teacher who has taken the PD course or used the curriculum before.)
  • How will you measure success?
  • Who is your target audience?
  • What are your expenses?
  • How much funding are you requesting?

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This post is part of a blog series in support of our new professional development opportunity, the Computer Science and Game Design Certificate, co-developed with the Computer Science Teachers Association. For more on the intersection of computer science and professional development, read the previous posts in the series:

 

Why Game Design Is an Awesome Introduction to Computer Science

Lynn Vanderzyl was new to teaching high school computer science (CS), and she started out in the logical placeteaching a programming course using Visual Basic, Python, and Java. Unfortunately, the course wasn’t engaging her students: “My classes were too small and they dropped my program.” The following year, the course was redesigned with a focus on game design, with students working together to build video games and learn CS in the process. And it worked!

“They are still learning to code but they don’t realize it.” —Lynn Vanderzyl

Student demand for this course was so high that Lynn offered four gaming classes in the first year, and all of them were full. She’s since added two more advanced game programming courses and loves the projects that her students create each year.

Why is game design an awesome introduction to computer science?

As a part of our Computer Science and Professional Development blog series, we asked CS and game design students, teachers, and professionals that question. A few answers showed up consistently:

  • Games make CS relatable.
  • Games help students understand why they’re coding.
  • Games prepare the next generation to shape society.

 

“It’s culturally relevant for kids.”

Before students can learn CS, they have to want to learn to CS. And as Lynn discovered, a love of gaming can draw a lot of different students into a computer lab. Schell Games game designer, Sabrina Culyba, sums up why students get so excited to take a CS course when it is based around gaming:

“It’s culturally relevant for kids. They play games. Their peers play games. By leveraging game design and game creation, you give kids a reason for computer science to be meaningful as an everyday tool that helps them create and express themselves.” Sabrina Culyba

 

Students see the tangible results of their code.

Games are more than just a gateway into CS; they can also serve as long-term learning tools. James Staffen, an undergraduate CS major at Penn State and a former Zulama student, is a big believer in learning CS by designing games. He started programming in high school and knows how challenging the learning process can be.

“When you are coding just to learn coding, you don’t understand what the point of it is. When you are coding to build a game, you can easily see the results of your code, the point of coding, the power of coding.” —James Staffen

Lynn agrees that it is thrilling for students to see the “immediate results” of their code. She adds that this fun experience leads students to want to dig deeper: “Once they get a simple game going they want to add more to it. The only way to add to it is to learn more coding.”

 

 

Game design prepares student programmers to shape society.

What are the bigger-picture implications of learning CS through building games? How do we want the next generation of computer scientists and programmers to think, communicate, and design? Sabrina Culyba explains that games help students develop empathy, a key to using computing skills effectively in the real world.

“Good game design requires you to consider your players—what are you trying to help them feel, understand, achieve? This mindset of designing to meet the needs and desires of others is a critical skill for us to cultivate in students as they grow up to build the next technologies that will shape our society.” —Sabrina Culyba

Sabrina’s point raises the question: What other skills, along with empathy, do student programmers need in order to grow into positive, powerful forces in modern society? At Zulama, we believe that collaboration, critical thinking, communication, and creativity (if we were cooler we’d call them the 4Cs) are vital skills for all students to develop. Traditional CS courses don’t always focus on helping students build those skills. But when students work together to make games, they naturally tap into their creativity, talk to each other, and solve problemsall while learning the principles of computer science.

 

Make Computer Science Part of Your Professional Learning

Over the next few months, we will be sharing all kinds of resources related to Computer Science Professional Development — from stories by teachers and Computer Science Professional Development experts to podcasts, graphics, Facebook Live events, and other fun surprises ;).

This is a conversation and we would love to hear your ideas and feedback along the way! Is there anything in particular about Computer Science (CS) that you’d like to hear about?

We are exploring the intersection of Computer Science and Professional Development to champion CS education and the teachers who bring it to life and to support the launch of our own CS professional learning opportunity.

Computer Science and Game Design for Teachers

From its inception, Zulama has been committed to helping teachers become life-changing mentors to their students and providing teachers with personalized, fun, and rigorous learning opportunities. To that end, we’re SO excited about the launch of our Computer Science and Game Design Professional Development Course and Certificate, created in partnership with the Computer Science Teachers Association.

With the rapid growth of CS-related careers, we want to give all teachers a chance to learn how to bring engaging CS experiences to their students. Our self-paced, interactive course will do just that, and this year we’re aiming to teach 2,000 teachers across the country about the joys of CS and Game Design.

A Bit More about the Course

Our 30-hour professional development course is designed for K-12 Teachers, experienced coders and novices alike. This online course is fun and highly interactive while also being rigorous enough to align with the K-12 CS Framework and the CSTA standards. In the course, teachers will:

  • learn and apply game design principles and programming skills.
  • use industry-standard tools to design and code an original video game and showcase it in their own digital portfolio.
  • interact with other teachers who are learning about and teaching CS.
  • receive a Computer Science and Game Design Certificate, upon completion of the course.

You can learn more about the course and register for it here.

Why CS Matters: The State of CS Education

  • Over 7.7 million Americans use computers in complex ways in their jobs (Change the Equation, 2015).
  • Nearly half of those 7.7 million work in fields that are not directly tied to science, technology, engineering, and math (Change the Equation, 2015).
  • Fewer than half of K–12 schools offer computer science courses with programming included (Google & Gallup, 2016).

Are You Meta-curious?

Metacognition, Growth Mindset, Meta-curious

Discovering Metacognition

Elementary school teacher Karin Morrison was teaching the numbers 1 through 10 to the children in her class. This counting exercise was a suitable challenge for some of her students. Other students, were immediately disengaged. One boy, who wanted to be an astronaut, was counting in “light years” rather than counting to 10. Creative, but Karin was unsure about how to focus him on counting to 10.

Her student was thinking about numbers in a way that was meaningful to him rather than addressing the assignment. She decided to try to understand why he was thinking about math in the way that he was. “How can I help him think more about his own thinking?” she asked herself.

“Thinking about one’s own thinking” is also known as “metacognition.” Like many other educators, Karin stumbled upon the concept of metacognition without learning about it formally.
She began to design activities around metacognition. When her students reflected on how they were thinking and why, they engaged with and refined their personal learning process. Later in her career, Karin co-authored a book on the subject —
Making Thinking Visible— with Project Zero’s Ron Ritchhart.


On a Zulama hangout, Nikki Navta and Karin Morrison dove into how to develop metacognitive skills
in the classroom. Their practical strategies for educators who want to “engage students in thinking about their own thinking” are below.

Metacognitive Tools

The Iterative Process

The iterative process consists of a cycle of prototyping, testing, and refining. Students can reflect on which strategies worked, which did not, and why. This cycle emphasizes systems thinking and focuses on how a solution is reached, rather than the solution itself. Zulama students use the iterative process to build and continually improve their game design projects.

Collaborative Project-Based Learning

Consistent collaboration helps students view problems from the perspective of their teammates, embrace new ideas, and learn strategies from one another.

Embracing Failure

When failure is embraced as essential to the learning process, students learn to view failure experiences not as barriers to learning but as ongoing opportunities to understand how they think and learn. They see failure as the beginning of their learning, not an endpoint.

Student-Centric Classrooms

In student-centric classrooms, teachers act as facilitators and mentors who encourage student inquiry and discovery. This classroom paradigm encourages students to develop their own strategies for learning and thinking.

Metacognition Meets Growth Mindset

In implementing these tools, it is helpful to be aware of the intersection between metacognition and the growth mindset. A growth mindset is an understanding that, with effort, one can always grow and improve. Metacognition is the ability to reflect on one’s own learning process and strategies.

When a growth-minded teacher gives encouraging feedback, they remind students that hard work and grit lead to growth and improvement. For that feedback to be helpful, students need to understand what kind of “hard work,” or learning strategies, are most effective for them. To discover personal learning strategies, students must be able to reflect on the strategies that have (and haven’t) worked for them in the past. They must be able to think about their own thinking.

Meta-curiosity

The first step to effectively developing a growth mindset and metacognitive skills is to be “meta-curious” — a term that Nikki coined during the hangout. Being meta-curious could mean that you are curious about metacognition, or it could mean that you are curious about your own curiosity. If you fit into either category, try out some of the tools listed above, keep reading about metacognition, subscribe to the Education Innovation podcast on iTunes, and get in touch with us on Twitter @ZulamaLearn.

Watch our “Understanding Metacognition” Hangout here or listen on iTunes.

Students Design Out of this World Games at South Fayette’s Game Jam

What is a Game Jam?

At a Game Jam, design teams come together to build original games in a limited time frame. It is a fantastic opportunity for students to collaborate, engage in creative problem solving, and deepen critical thinking skills.

screen-shot-2016-11-18-at-12-16-21-pm

South Fayette Game Jam:

Zulama teachers Chelsea McIntyre and Jeannie Scott hosted an outer space-themed Game Jam at South Fayette School District in PA. 16 teams participated and over the course of about three hours, 16 new digital or board games had been built! Thank you to Sabrina Culyba at Schell Games for giving an excellent keynote speech, to Hans Westman at Westman Design Group and Lily Taylor at Zulama for serving as judges, and to the Infosys Foundation, whose contribution gave South Fayette the ability to extend outreach in maker education to neighboring districts.