A Fresh Perspective on Teaching Computing

An interview with William Lau,
author of Teaching Computing in Secondary Schools

When a full-time teacher has a young family but still manages to find time to write a book, you know he is passionate about his subject … and has an angelic spouse! In college, Will studied computing and business and then began teaching IT, video editing and graphic design. He still recalls his first computer class at the age of 10 and feeling incredibly lost. So lost, in fact, that when the teacher asked students to shut down their machines at the end of the class, Will pulled the plug out of the wall! His shame and embarrassment when he realized his mistake was so acute that he vowed to help others not get so lost when learning about the power of computers and what makes them tick.

Zulama CEO Nikki Navta loves her copy of Teaching Computing in Secondary Schools!

His approach is user-friendly and assumes no prior knowledge of hardware and software. In fact, when teaching preschoolers and kindergartners, he starts off with basics like developing fine motor skills needed to operate a mouse and keyboard. With Will’s methods, it’s possible to teach anyone who wants to learn.

Yet Will admits that when teachers are unwilling or being forced to learn about computers, it’s very difficult to help them gain the right skills, much less get their students excited about computing. He recommends that administrators make sure teachers have adequate resources, primarily time and money.

His advice for teachers who want to learn and teach computing?!

  1. Develop your own skills
  2. Focus on student thinking rather than the activities

Unpacking that second idea, he encourages teachers to study how expert computer scientists think, and understand common misconceptions people have as they learn about computing.

Computer science is an incredibly dynamic subject to teach, because it changes every day. One day a teacher may understand mobile app development, and then a new technology like augmented reality emerges. Teachers need to be given time to constantly update their own skills.

How does Will stay up to date?

He follows cognitive scientists and educators like Daniel T Willingham (@DTWillingham) like Greg Ashman (@greg_ashman ‏), Paul A. Kirschner (@P_A_Kirschner)‏, Joe Kirby (@joe__kirby), and Doug Lemov (@Doug_Lemov) on twitter, where they post their research. He recommends Python as a starter programming language, especially because there is a robust online community and resources available on pythonprogramming.net, pythonschool.net and youtube.

What’s Will currently into?

Teaching Advanced Placement Computer Science, and learning about Pygame through Al Sweigart’s books. He feels a strong responsibility to give back to the network of computer science learners by providing research-based mentorship.

His goals for the future?

Let’s develop a global network of computer science educators, rather than remaining siloed in our localized CS communities! For example, we don’t know much about how Russia teaches computer science, but they are graduating top talent into the workforce. Computers are global, why isn’t computer education global?!

You can find William Lau @MrLauLearning on Twitter!

The 4 Cs: From Buzzword to Reality

By: Amy Pavelich, Zulama Copy Editor

There’s an exciting change taking place in today’s classrooms. More and more teachers are incorporating the 4 Cs (critical thinking, communication, collaboration, and creativity) into their lesson plans and it’s making a huge difference in the way students learn and how teachers instruct.

For this post, we talked with a dynamic teacher who’s committed to the 4 Cs. She’ll share a bit about how she applies them to students and herself. And at the end, we’ve got some great resources and inspiration for using the 4 Cs in your classroom and life.

4 Cs Refresher

But first, a quick review of each of the 4 Cs:

Critical Thinking: viewing problems from different angles

Communication: sharing ideas, questions, and possible solutions

Collaboration: achieving goals by working together

Creativity: courageously trying out new ideas

How does encouraging the 4Cs impact your students? Well, the possibilities are endless. Students will learn empathy through collaboration and communication. They’ll make important connections through relationships centered on valuing different perspectives. They’ll become critical, and in many cases divergent, thinkers, by exploring different ways to come up with super creative solutions to problems. And with the world they’re inheriting, all of these life skills will come in handy as kids set out on their paths to good citizenship and continuous learning.

With the 4 Cs a student can become a:

4 Cs Graphic

Advice from a 4 Cs Teacher

So, as a teacher, how can you successfully implement the 4 Cs in your classroom? And, just as importantly, for yourself? We asked Courtney Sears, a second-grade teacher who’s a champion of maker spaces and a genuine thought leader in education. (Check out “Taking the Time for Making,” where she discusses how she designed a maker space in her classroom that incorporates STEAM challenges!) She gave us some really useful ideas that will hopefully inspire you in your own quest for cultivating the 4 Cs.

Using Projects to Cultivate the 4 Cs for Your Students

Courtney uses projects to help her students cultivate the 4 Cs. She’s found that the most engaging assignments and student work come from projects that blend all four elements together. Here are a couple of examples:

  1. “Each second grade class in our school has a classroom maker space. Each week the kids have time to work on self-directed projects. We use the time to teach communications skills and habits of mind such as optimism, flexibility, and persistence. Kids build forts, light-up tiaras, doll houses with working elevatorsyou name it! They couldn’t complete these projects without using all of the 4 Cs.”
  2. “For a unit on weather, my students worked in small groups to design a weather manual that explained how different weather instruments worked. My students had to use Google Docs to write and publish the book. They used the comments feature to give each other feedback on their work and they had to help each other solve problems.”

“Explaining to them that all of their names went on the cover and that no one would know what particular work each kid did really helped them see the importance of working together to create a product they could all be proud of.”

Cultivating the 4 Cs for Yourself

The 4 Cs are valuable for teachers, too. Courtney has found that one great way to practice using the 4Cs herself is by connecting with other educational professionals, establishing a support network where she can seek out fresh perspectives and collaborate.

“I do all of my planning with my second-grade teamwe accomplish so much more by working together. Pushing myself to try new things and seeking out opportunities to grow professionally help a lot. My teacher fellowship helped me develop relationships with policymakers, advocate for teachers and students through writing, and dig more deeply into the world of teacher-led professional development.”

The 4 Cs of Professional Learning Networks

Courtney has also developed a robust online community, aka a Professional Learning Network (PLN). She’s a big fan of PLNs as an avenue to the 4 Cs. There’s an abundance of creative ideas you can learn from others to try out with your students and opportunities to connect and collaborate with other educators who are rethinking learning space, refocusing curriculum to be project driven, and connecting more than ever with their students.  

Courtney has had a lot of success using Twitter to build her PLN:

“Twitter connects me with blog posts and online articles from orgs like Teaching Tolerance and EdWeek. I also participate in Twitter chats. I connect with teachers and authors I would never have the chance to work with in my school or district.”

Since it can be tough to get started developing your own PLN, here’s her advice to teachers who are new to it:

“To get connected on Twitter, follow the curricular leaders in your district, the authors of professional books and blogs that have most influenced you, and take part in Twitter chats. Be generous with your follows, comments, and retweets so that others can get to know you and see what you are about. Make sure that you follow a diverse group of educators. Beyond Twitter, seek out enriching professional development and networking opportunities that will push you to do better and help you make connections beyond your school and district. Finally, share your story with others. There are many education publications eager to share the voices of classroom teachers.”

Personalized Professional Development Source: EdSurge.

A Parting NoteThe 5th C?

We think it’s worth acknowledging that among the 4 Cs, a 5th C exists: connection. It is inherent in everything you do to achieve the 4 Cs, and some of the best experiences that come from them. As famed researcher, Dr. Brené Brown says, “People are hardwired for connection.” But to make that connection truly meaningful, valuable, impactful, purposefulwe must continuously engage our students in practicing the 4 Cs both in and outside our classrooms.

Courtney Sears is a second-grade public school teacher in 1:1 classroom in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. She is National Board Certified and a 2015–2017 North Carolina Hope Street Group Fellow. She has been teaching and learning with young children for 18 years. She is passionate about cultivating classrooms with growth mindsets so that children can confidently take the lead in their learning.


Check out these useful resources for more information on the 4 Cs and ways to incorporate them in your classroom!

  • Critical Thinking: Self-awareness and metacognition are discussed for helping improve learning.
  • Communication: In STEM fields, empathetic communication is a fundamental ingredient for success . . . If students learn to express ideas in a persuasive way and respond gracefully to reactions to their opinions, they’ll be able to promote innovation and social change through fields like bioengineering or video game design.”
  • Collaboration: This P21/Pearson Paper explores what good collaboration looks like and how to design collaborative activities in your classroom.
  • Creativity: “The process of having original ideas that have value” (The Element, 2009). This is a must-see Ted Talk by Sir Ken Robinson on “Changing Education Paradigms.” Even if you’ve already seen it, it’s worth watching again! And there’s a featured RSA video animation as a bonus.  
  • Common Sense.org’s video provides example ways to incorporate the 4 Cs into classrooms using technology.
  • Teaching Thought gives 10 reasons for why developing a PLN is important for teachers.

Want to spice up your curriculum this fall? Bring game design and computer science into any class, at any time with our Short Courses.

Back-to-School Wisdom from the Experts

Decorating, lesson-planning, gathering project materials . . . there are a lot of little details to keep track of when heading back to school. What’s most important? We asked teachers, administrators, and education specialists for some back-to-school advice. Here’s what we took away:

  • Start by building relationships with students, parents, and other teachers.
  • Take opportunities to learn with and from your students and your fellow educators.
  • Get inspired by celebrating your past achievements.

Focus on Relationships First . . .

. . . within Your School

Some of education’s big thinkers consistently said that getting to know your school community will make for a year of deeper learning:

“My one piece of advice for educators as they prepare for another school year is to form relationships early and often. First, know yourself. Reflect often about who you are as an educator, what you do well and how you can do it better. Take time to know who your students really are. What their personalities are. What they like, don’t like, etc. . . . Building positive school culture is up to us all. Form those relationships with colleagues. Learn from them. Grow with them. Isolation is a choice teachers make. There is so much we can learn from each other!”

Steven W. Anderson, Educational Evangelist, Speaker/Consultant

. . . with Your Students

“. . . all that we do is grounded in relationships. The best way to kick off your year is by building a culture of innovation in your classroom where trust is the foundation, students are free to take risks, and the culture is dynamic and supportive. Take the first few days to build your team. Empower the voice of everyone in the room and ensure that they leave feeling valued, respected, and that you couldn’t be more excited to have THEM on your team this year. Show your new group of kids how much you care. Make it obvious that you love your work and that there is nowhere else in the world you want to bethan learning alongside them. Build relationships, push their thinking, and the content will follow. Invest the time early and the relationships will pay academic dividends for the rest of the year!”

Thomas Murray, Director of Innovation, Future Ready Schools, Washington, D.C.

Vicki Davis of CoolCatTeacher offered an idea for a fun relationship-building activity:

“I have students use play dough to model something that is wonderful about them. Some will model a basketball and say they love basketball. Others may model a horse or a pet. Still others might model a book. It gives me insight quickly into what they love and who they are. So, while there are many things we need to be doing, remember to start off with the relationship!”

Vicki Davis, Teacher & Blogger, Founder of CoolCatTeacher

In order to have meaningful relationships with students, we have to consider the way that external factors, like the current political climate, are affecting their lives:

“. . . be candid and nonjudgmental when answering students’ questions about the dialogue going on in the United States as elected political leaders and the news media tackle important issues about immigration, global affairs, health care, the Russian ‘hacking’ scandal, and national security. Students, like the rest of us, are being barraged by the 24/7 news and social media cycles and we have to assuage students’ fears and concerns by helping them navigate the news cycle and use their critical thinking skills to understand the often hostile communication interactions going on in America and the global community.

Delbert White Jr., Education Technology Thought Leader

. . . with Parents

Form positive relationships with parents. Don’t just call home when a student is in trouble. Call home, write, as often as you can to let them know how awesome things are. It takes just a second to make a parent’s day.

Steven W. Anderson, Educational Evangelist, Speaker/Consultant

“Don’t rely on students to communicate information and what’s happening in your classroom. Find tools to “tell YOUR story” and then share them with parents, community, and the world directly.”

Andy Adams, Digital Learning Specialist, Region 7 ESC

Take Opportunities to Keep on Learning

Mark Suter, a game design and programming teacher, shared what he is getting out of professional learning:

For this fall, I’m attending some conferences to find resources for my game design and programming courses.

Mark Suter, Game Design and Programming Teacher

We also heard from a couple digital learning experts about alternative professional learning activities that they are offering at their schools:

“I’m working with my colleagues to plan a hands-on week-long conference—called JumpStart—for our faculty to kick off the school year. We are excited that it will be a mix of featured speakers, EdCamp-style discussions, and breakout sessions. With so much choice and variety, we hope that every educator will get the ideas and energy they need.”

Kerry Gallagher, Digital Learning Specialist at St. John’s Prep

Kerry doing a parent/student night to help parents learn more about how their children use iPads in school.

“This fall finds us entering the final stage of our 1:1 rollouts . . . we are noticing our teachers are seeing devices and technology platforms as true tools of learning rather than separate and additional to the curriculum . . . To help our teachers gain confidence and knowledge, we (our team of edtech coaches) are creating challenge-based explorative professional learning activities. These are meant to be hands-on, fast-paced and are built to immerse the teacher in the platform rather than training them to swipe and click.”

Brianna Henneke Hodges, Director of Digital Learning for Stephenville Independent School District

For some teachers, continued learning means thinking about how they might alter lesson plans based on student feedback:

I prepared by looking over my lessons from the previous semesters and tweaking them based on how they went. Keeping many with tweaks, while getting rid of some entirely. Experience is key.

Blake Borden, Zulama Teacher

Get Inspired by Celebrating Last Year’s Accomplishments

A few educators and learning specialists reflected on their proudest moments from last school year:

Celebrating Students

“My proudest moment last year was when my students successfully deployed their Unity apps to the HTC Vive that they designed and coded themselves.”

Mark Suter, Game Design and Programming Teacher

“In terms of using Zulama, my proudest moments were basically Monday mornings in my Cinematography class. Using the Screenwriting Curriculum, we would discuss character development and dialog. Many members of the class were fans of the Walking Dead TV show and each Monday we were able to talk about way more than just what happened in Sunday’s episode. We would discuss the choices they made and how they grew the character, theme, etc.”

Brian Wetzel, Zulama Teacher

“Over the years, I feared that I was too didactic and that students all programmed the same way as me based on my teaching and use of exemplars. However, this fear was unfounded . . . They’ve developed their own individual methods of solving problems through programming and this made me immensely proud. My second proudest achievement was finally breaking the gender gap. For September 2017, 54 percent of students choosing Computer Science as one of their three elective GCSE option subjects in Year 10 were female! This may not seem like a significant achievement, however the national average is 16.1 percent!”

William Lau, Assistant Headteacher, Author of Teaching Computing in Secondary Schools

Regarding Zulama courses I taught—The projects that were created in the Game Design class were amazing. Definitely my favorite moment.”

Blake Borden, Zulama Teacher

“My boy’s robotic team made it to state competition this year. I was so proud of their initiative, hard work, and creativity.”

Faith Plunkett, Entertainment Technology Academy Teacher

Celebrating Teachers

“Featuring the work of my daughter’s second-grade teacher and the teachers from my school in a conference presentation. I love sharing the amazing work that great teachers do every single day.”

Kerry Gallagher, Digital Learning Specialist at St. John’s Prep

“This past year, we had several teachers transform their classroom into imaginative worlds (e.g., Mario World), complete with hanging coin boxes that students could punch when they unlocked portions of the Breakout-style curriculum and physical activities that brought authentic application to their understanding of the content. We had teachers push past their uncertainties and utilize blogging and digital portfolios as vehicles for connected learning. And, we had teachers who became such believerssuch great sailboatsthat they shared their experiences with others as first-time presenters at major learning conferences.”

Brianna Henneke Hodges, Director of Digital Learning for Stephenville Independent School District

Want to spice up your curriculum this fall? Bring game design and computer science into any class, at any time with our 15–20—hour Short Courses.

Summer Resource Roundup: Computer Science and Professional Learning

Professional development—it rarely inspires excitement. But if PD is relevant, fun, and hands-on, it can spark creativity and remind educators just why they started teaching in the first place! With that in mind, we’ve been exploring the intersection of CS and good PD on our blog all summer, researching and writing about Why Game Design Is an Awesome Introduction to Computer Science and Tools for Creating an Inclusive CS Classroom.

Through conversations we’ve had with teachers and experts, we’ve discovered a bunch of practical and fun resources. Below are some of our favorite articles, podcasts, books, and more:





Twitter Edchats

  • #EthicalCS: Spearheaded by Kara Chesal, senior director of strategic partnerships at #CS4ALLNYC, and Ed Saber, a CS educator, this edchat takes place Wednesdays at 8 p.m. EST. Educators, computer scientists, and education policy experts come together to discuss how to make the field of CS more ethical.
  • #InfyEdChat: InfosysFoundationUSA invites education thought leaders to host these bi-monthly edchats. Topics range from “How to Start a Makerspace in the New School Year” to “Teaching CS Away From the Computer.”Here’s a guide to getting started with edchats if you haven’t tried it before!


  • CSTA Newsletter: Connect with fellow educators who teach computer science, and hear from innovators in CS curriculum, tools, and professional learning.
  • EdSurge Newsletter: Find out what’s new in edtech.


Want more resources like these? Sign up for our Newsletter, too!

Zulama Newsletter

Why Project-Based Learning Isn’t Just for Students

By: Amy Pavelich, Zulama Copy Editor

At the heart of our Computer Science and Game Design Certificate Program is a project: you design an original video game and then showcase it in a digital portfolio. But how will this fun professional learning experience help shape and inform your own teaching practices once you step back into the classroom?

In this post, we’ll explore how professional learning that is tech-oriented and project-based gives you an upper hand when teaching in a student-centered learning environment. PBL curriculum can open your classroom walls, turning your classroom into a laboratory of divergent thinking, creativity, and active learning.

The most important attitude that can be formed is that of desire to go on learning.John Dewey

The Growing Influence of Project-Based Learning (PBL)

John Dewey (1859–1952), a pioneering thought leader and educator, advocated “learning by doing.” He argued that if lessons were focused only on content and not driven by an experiential element, learners would be deprived of making informed opinions based on their interaction with the content. But, he went further in suggesting that “each student’s experience will be individualized based on past experiences, and not all students will take away the same outlook of the concept. Thus, the experiential learning classroom mimics society, where all people have different views of topics and information” (Learn NC, 2009).

While the idea of learning by doing was not new, Dewey’s advocacy for it in the early twentieth century led to it becoming “a recognized field of education, and in 1977 the Association for Experiential Education (AEE) was established” (Hammerman, Hammerman, & Hammerman, 2001). And PBL has gained momentum as technology has advanced. In today’s world, students have so much information to traverse and assess, and PBL gives them the ability to use higher-order thinking skills to identify and solve problems that are increasingly complex and unique to the twenty-first century.

As PBL’s influence has grown, experts have tried to pinpoint some key ingredients for making PBL effective. Typical elements of PBL include real-world context, collaboration, various communication strategies, and authentic assessments. Adding a technology component can help to enhance the experience into one of deeper learning.

How does the Zulama brand of PBL stand apart from the traditional model?

projects, pbl, learning, PD

  • Students learn the foundational skills of computer science, which are critical to today’s workforce development.
  • We hook kids’ interest with game design as the content focus.
  • Teacher-facilitated lessons combine traditional methods, such as reading assignments, with dynamic student-created projects that give students greater autonomy and ownership of their learning, sparking empathy, creativity, and passion in their work.

Essentially, we give PBL a lift.

Impacts of PBL Professional Development (PD)

In a landmark study conducted by the Buck Institute for Education, researchers wanted to determine how PBL professional development (PD) would impact teachers in a poor rural state. They found that teachers with PBL PD experiences were more likely than teachers without it to be successful in teaching and assessing 21st-century skills. Why? It turns out these teachers were more likely to incorporate PBL curriculum once they got back into their classrooms. But that’s not all! These same teachers also were more likely to share and provide PBL PD to other teachers. And that, of course, leads to systemic change! Because PBL is immersed in authentic assessment, where you have check-ins and multifaceted assessments at intervals throughout the project, you have a better gauge on where your students are at in their learning and can use this to guide them to deeper learning.

“Facilitating” PBL

Teaching a rigorous tech-oriented PBL curriculum has all kinds of benefits: higher student achievement, a decline in absenteeism, increased cooperative learning skills, less teacher burnout, among others.

Going through our Certificate Program will give you the initial exposure to how tech-oriented PBL curriculum works. It will alleviate some of the concerns and hesitation you might have about instituting PBL, turning your view from one that’s steeped in “risk” to one filled with boundless opportunities for growth for you and your students.

PBL curriculum is student driven, meaning you must adopt the mindset of facilitator:

  •    Be open to uncertainties.
  •    Be okay with not correcting students’ mistakes.
  •    Be present.
  •    Ask good questions to redirect students when they get off task.
  •    See yourself as a co-learner alongside your students.


Keeping these helpful strategies in mind will make your transition from teacher to facilitator a much smoother one.

Cultivating Empathy through PBL

One other key to a successful PBL experience is empathy. At the core of PBL is collaboration, which requires a commitment to listening to others, valuing their perspectives, understanding where they’re coming from, and then being willing to adjust your own perspective based on this new information.

As you work your way through our professional learning, your ultimate project will be to design and code an original game. This is when thinking like a game designer and keeping the player experience in mind becomes critical. You must empathize with the player, developing a deep understanding of how the player will experience your game. This drives your creative process: What is the purpose of the game? Is it fun, engaging, challenging? Or is it frustrating, boring? Empathy also informs the playtesting process, where someone else plays your game. While you may think your game is great as is, your audience could feel otherwise and point out issues you may have overlooked. Having the ability to perceive others’ perspectives and understanding their experiences will help you look at your game from new angles. Perhaps there is room for improvement, after all! Cultivating empathy through game design projects is a means for actively practicing and modeling empathy with your students. And if you have experienced PBL first-hand in your own professional learning, you will be able to better understand and empathize with your students as they learn through projects in the classroom.

Learning from and Leading through Empathy

As your students work on their own game design projects, with your guidance, they too will begin to understand the importance of empathy, not only in how it applies to the player experience, but in a greater world context. As they interact with one another in group collaboration and feedback loops, they’re practicing skills that will make their futures brighter: actively listening to better understand and value other perspectives beside their own. Empathy drives the PBL curriculum—it’s what makes collaboration successful, what inspires people to look at things differently to make better decisions, and helps spark new ideas. This culture of collaboration cultivates outstanding leadership skills and the desire to be compassionate world citizens who tackle challenging problems with breakout innovations.


This post is part of a blog series in support of our new professional learning 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 learning, read the previous posts in the series: