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?


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:


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).

Professional Development Needs an Overhaul

Zulama  Teams with Educurious at SXSWedu conference

Bev Vaillancourt, Editorial Director

FullSizeRender 3As I boarded my flight to Austin, Texas, to attend the SXSWedu conference, I mulled over just what I might be hearing and seeing, but mostly I wondered whether the presentation Jane Chadsey from Educurious and I had planned for the conference would be all that we hoped it could be.

Several months ago Zulama, Educurious, and Working Examples submitted a joint application to SXSWedu to share our thoughts on what makes for a truly dynamic professional development experience. Titled Professional Development Needs an Overhaul, the presentation brought together what we believe to be best practices in designing fully engaging professional development. We were committed to bring to Austin our shared passion for education and our shared belief in the importance of teachers as collaborative decision makers in the professional development process.

To our delight, our session room filled to capacity and then some. For two short hours educators collaborated on discussing adult learning and its relationship to design thinking.

  • Who are the stakeholders in professional development?
  • Is it limited to teachers, or does it also include administrators, school board members, and students?
  • What are the outcomes for each and are they the same?
  • Is there opportunity to fail and fail fast, and then iterate within a dynamic culture of support, synergy, and creativity?
  • What role does relevance play for each stakeholder and how is that determined?

We discussed motivators and performance based on small steps that includes time for reflection. Importantly, we discussed an overarching respect of the process, which means dedicated time for individuals to work in teams within schools, a district, and across districts to problem solve. We stressed that professional development must be an experience that includes “flow.” And, as we ended, we reminded everyone “don’t forget the fun.” Professional development, as all learning, really needs to be fun to succeed.

With our Problem Solving workshop finished, Jane and I were off to enjoy the rest of the conference. Student agency and student-led learning perhaps were the overriding themes of SXSWedu. From the session on Acton Academy where teachers are termed “guides” to several sessions on personalized learning, trust in student curiosity and ingenuity permeated the many sessions held in three different conference venues over four days. And, not surprisingly, project based learning was often heard as the vehicle for moving students beyond core content to meaningful and engaged experiences.

Project based learning forms the core of Zulama’s courses. But, exactly what is PBL and how can its design maximize content knowledge and engagement? Many consider the Buck Institute for Education (BIE) foremost in PBL training. What a bonus to have BIE presenting at SXSWedu! So, off I went on Tuesday morning to fine tune my PBL skills. The core question BIE posed was “How can we evaluate good project based learning? Importantly, determining the outcomes and figuring out how project based learning can be authentically assessed drives the process. What is it students want to learn? How will they know they’ve succeeded in accomplishing what they’ve determined as outcomes? What will get them there?

FullSizeRender 20BIE stresses that project based learning must be the “main course, and not the dessert,” of classroom strategy. Curious about just how powerful PBL can be for kids? Take a look at Media Saves the Beach, a student-led science project that crossed all subject areas and drew on the individual talents and skillsets of each group of students. No well-crafted lesson plan could have taken this project to what it became as students totally immersed themselves in finding answers to problems that directly impacted their community. Guided by a teacher who trusted the inherent curiosity and learning capacity of his students, mutual respect for skills and knowledge yielded sophisticated project data overlaid with significant community relevance and scientific importance. Perhaps Scott Nguyen a high school student presenter said it best the last day of the conference, “Students are very capable, far more capable than you think.”

Maker Spaces ruled at SXSWedu this year. Computer coding certainly has found an important place in maker spaces. Take a look at this KIBO / beebot project that combines computer coding with robotics. Primary age kids code what they would like the robot to do by sequencing and scanning bar codes on a series of blocks. Touch a button on the robot and off it goes on its programmed path. Young kids are building entire KIBO/beebot villages out of cardboard and props, and then sending their robots on their merry way to navigate around the village. I can tell you that adults at SXSWedu were having a grand time stringing coding blocks!

The primary outcome of education should be to put more ownership in learners’ hands so that students can navigate everything they will encounter in their lives. – Stacey Childress of the NewSchools Venture Fund

This statement underscores Zulama’s philosophy of student-centered classrooms and student directed learning. If there was one main take-way for me from the SXSWedu conference, it’s that educators can play a pivotal role in expanding collective, creative experiences that powers learning on student terms driven by student interests. Authenticity – real tools, real meaning, real processes that significantly impact students outside of the schoolhouse walls – is what 21st Century learning must be all about. “We do not learn from experience…we learn from reflecting on experience,” wrote John Dewey many years ago. Then, as today, his words give deep meaning to that very personal experience called education.

Beyond all of the sessions I attended, and beyond all of the energized conversations I had the honor of sharing with exceptional educators, the most profound moments for me at the conference came from a SXSWedu showing of a movie called Conducta, translated as Behavior, set in a poverty-laden village in Cuba. It is a deeply moving story of a teacher who places her students in front of the system and cares more about who they are and what they can become than what the system says they should be. The movie dramatically reminds us of how deeply young people feel righteousness, and how quickly they understand injustice. But mostly, it reminds us of how one teacher can help any child find vision and hope. This belief fueled the energy of the SXSWedu conference, and made it well worth attending.