Monthly Archives: October 2019

This post is sponsored by Abre, all opinions are my own.

Abre provides a set of solutions for schools looking to manage and consolidate the different software apps and websites used for student attendance, assessments, communication, student data and much more. Abre offers a robust platform that enables you to choose specific solution areas to get started and then add to it over time, continuing to build additional features of Abre into your school.

Communication

With Abre, you can facilitate faster and better communication within the district, schools, and between home and school. Abre offers a consistent and reliable way to streamline the numerous communications happening within the school and school district. Having a consolidated and reliable platform helps to foster and build home-to-school relationships, promote better communication, and student success.

Learning Management Solution

Abre provides one space where teachers can access the resources necessary for classroom instruction and teaching responsibilities. Included within the Learning Management solution are a group of web apps such as Class. A teacher uses Class to communicate and manage all classroom activity, do grading, post homework and generally manage instruction. The Assessment App allows for easy creation, delivery, and analysis of formative and summative assessments. Schools can organize the curriculum, including pacing guides, for all their classes with the Curriculum App. For tracking progress through a lesson, the Learn App delivers on that. To make sure students are staying on task with their devices, the Focus App ensures that the browser is only being used for teacher-defined websites and documents.

Data Management & Integrations

Abre is all about consolidating data to help administrators, teachers, and students improve. Abre integrates with a large and growing number of other software providers. They even integrate with products that provide competitive solutions to theirs. The Students App is the centerpiece of this solution and provides a clear view of student progress and makes it easy to find all relevant student data in one place. It also saves paper! Rather than students and parents having to fill out and exchange multiple papers, they access forms right from Abre. Some options such as an Acceptable Use Policy (AUP), medical forms, and athletic forms, which are easily accessible within the Abre platform. Individual student plans are also accessible in the Student app. Again, this provides a single place for staff and parents to easily find all their student’s information.

Administrators can access all student data and track growth over time, look at state and local assessments to analyze trends in academic performance. Parents can access student data which includes academic performance, behavior, forms completed, attendance, and state assessments. Access to this vital data is made simple with one platform!

Teacher Professional Learning Solution

For districts looking for better professional development options for teachers, through Abre, teachers can create their own staff and individualized professional development plan for use over an extended time. Abre offers a more flexible solution making it easier for administrators and teachers to create, deliver, and track professional development activities. Abre can integrate schools’ digital courseware and customized courses for delivering staff development.

For completing courses online or in face-to-face environments, districts can offer teachers opportunities to earn badges, micro-credentials, and engage in gamified professional development. This is great for building professional portfolios, as teachers can use these activities to receive CEU credits or hours awarded based on state requirements for continued professional development.

School Management Solution

Similar to Learning Management, Abre provides great functionality for staff to manage day-to-day school requirements. The Behavior App helps with the workflow, easy documentation and tracking student data when either positive or negative behavior needs to be documented. The workflow features are especially helpful for office referrals where other administrators are needing to get involved and having transparency for parents is important. Abre Behavior takes on a significant portion of this manual work.

  • Easy to understand graphs and plots for tracking student progress.
  • Teachers can see details in terms of specific consequences as a result of any behaviors and referrals. The bar graph represents conferences, detentions, in-school and out-of-school suspensions.
  • The behavior app links directly to the student information so everything is readily accessible which leads to a better understanding of each student and their needs.

Beyond behavior, the School Management Solution allows admins and teachers to easily create and manage individual student and teacher plans. Rather than students and parents having to fill out and exchange multiple papers with the school, they access forms right from Abre. Some options such as an Acceptable Use Policy (AUP), medical forms, and athletic forms, are easily accessible within the platform. Whether teachers need to create an IEP, a gifted education plan, behavior or Response to Intervention (RTI) plan, teachers can build exactly what they need and have it live in Abre. And Abre provides a clear view of student progress and makes it easy to find all relevant student data in one place.

Likewise, administrators can work with teachers to create professional development plans using the same solution. It makes sense to have one platform that provides all of these options. For teachers, students, parents and administrators, having access to student data and other information is vital for promoting and tracking student growth. This solution really saves a lot of paper.

Connected Community Solution

Abre sees connecting schools with the communities they serve as critical to student growth. The Connected Community solution facilitates the exchange of important information, data and communications between students and administrators and members of their community. Abre allows a school’s learning partners to register in the Abre platform, roster the students in their programs back to the school, and enable the safe exchange of student attendance and other data. This is critical for schools to evaluate all of the influences that are growing their students. And for learning partners, it is how they can better understand whether their programs are meeting the needs of the students.

As an example, looking toward the future of learning and work, it’s important that we provide options for our students to engage in real-world learning experiences. One outstanding feature coming from the Partners App is where districts can add local businesses into the platform and facilitate connections between students and members of the community. The goal is to manage, track and capture quality attendance data when students take advantage of opportunities for place-based learning, experiential learning, CTE, and service-based learning.

Abre also lets students and staff create digital portfolios based on the work they’ve done. These portfolios are a powerful way of demonstrating, beyond the test scores, what they have learned and the skills they have acquired. Schools can then choose to allow these portfolios to be shared with others such as businesses, other schools, or organizations.

Privacy

Abre is FERPA compliant. The student information is only released with parental permission.

Using Abre is quite simple and I find that it is easy to navigate, which makes it a great choice for all users, whether they are beginners or advanced when it comes to implementing technology. By using a robust tool like Abre, educators and parents have immediate access to a lot of data. Abre is a multi-purpose platform with capabilities to facilitate communication, collaboration, and much more. It provides benefits for teachers for tracking PD, administrators looking to provide a comprehensive and consolidated platform to meet the needs of their schools and students, parents looking to stay connected with student learning and be informed of important information regarding their child’s education.

Guest post by Deidre Roemer,  Director of Leadership and Learning West Allis, WI, @deidre_roemer

 

When I reflect on my skills as a teacher throughout my career, I can think of examples of what I did well and a million things I would have done differently.  I am teaching a class at a local university this semester and know confidently that I am a better teacher now than I was when I was in the classroom. The opportunity to see other teachers in action in my leadership role for the last several years is what has made me better.  I get to speak to educators and learners all the time about what is working well in their classrooms and what they would like to see grow. It includes spending time in many classrooms where we and others are getting it right and learners can articulate the process of their learning in order to create great things.

Professional development that is connected to a vision of our work with meaningful processing time to reflect is how we push teachers to move from single projects to true learner driven practice.  We take a lot of teachers and teams on site visits to schools in our area and across our country who are already doing the kind of work we are trying to do to see it in action. It is hard to find a large comprehensive system that is there yet, so we are often at small charters of specialty programs that are offshoots of schools.  The visits are always amazing as we are able to interact with teachers and learners and see learner driven practice, but often the most important part of the time is the meal after the visit or the long trip home where we can talk about what we saw, process, and plan for what parts we can implement within our system. The goal is not to replicate but to figure out how to ask the right reflective questions of ourselves and one another to tie what we saw to our personal passions and interests and figure out how to bring all of that together to shift the learner experience.

We also spend a lot of our time talking about how this is the kind of learning experience ALL learners should have.  It should not be reserved for some kids in special programs or special schools. The visits with the deep discussions are often the leverage point that takes an educator from trying a few things to a true shift of practice that is more inclusive.  It helps them to be more collaborative as they are often on these visits with other staff from across our district that they might not already know having a shared experience . The power in seeing some things we are already doing well and celebrating those helps us to not be overwhelmed when looking for ways to grow.  The key is to make the time, take the staff who are ready to take some bold steps, and then follow up with them multiple times throughout the year so they have support to keep going with the work.

On a recent site visit, I took a chance and messaged some of the teachers to join us off-site after the formal conference to continue our learning.  Fortunately, they were willing to take the opportunity to discuss their work with us over dinner. It was an impactful experience to listen to teachers that have been doing this work for some time engage in professional discourse about grading, telling their story and standards.  The teachers were open about their own growth over time and how our staff could take pieces of what they saw back to our schools to create a more equitable opportunities for all learners through empowerment. We went back to the site the next day with a new lens on what to look for in learner and teacher observations that we could do instead of being lost in the surface things like the physical set-up.  Things that may have looked idealistic the day before now looked possible. The modeling of professional discourse created space for our team to do the same and ask some great questions about how we can do this work and how it does not have to look the same across all our schools.  Encouraging staff to push boundaries and challenge one another’s thinking is how we look at someone else’s professional practice and find a way to make it our own.

A few things we discover each time we do a site visit became apparent:

  • This work is messy.  It takes deep dialogue on what is right for learners and how to give up control in a way that is not always natural for teachers.
  • Change is uncomfortable and unpredictable, but easier with the proper support.  People tend to say, “Change is hard.” There was a great article from the Harvard Business Review in January of 2008 that explained why that phrase becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy that permits us not to try.  We have to be able to think bigger than that.
  • We need to get more comfortable with professional discourse and open discussion about where we are now and where we can go that may push our thinking.
  • Teachers have to connect their own passion to their work in schools.  When it is authentic to the teachers, it becomes authentic with the learners.
  • Our teachers need to see the work in action often and learn how to get and give productive feedback.
  • The standards are always embedded in innovative, learner driven work.  They just aren’t always owned solely by the teacher.
  • Many times, the teacher in a learner driven classroom finds joy in their work.

We have evolved our district wide professional development to hopefully reflect all of these.  Our teachers will have time in small groups to learn their standards well enough to empower learners to take ownership of mastery of those standards within cross-curricular projects.  Staff will then have the opportunity to sign up to see another teacher modeling classroom practice that is learner driven. They will be our own internal site visits. We will use structured protocols to get and give feedback at each site to ensure we are using the time for genuine collaboration as we know that is what drives teacher practice.  We can’t make more time than we have, so we use the protocols from The School Reform Initiative as a way to restructure the time and make sure it is used for purposeful feedback and collaboration.

Our teachers hosting visits that day have been invited to participate for the first round as they are already trying new things, having success with learner empowerment and finding joy in their work.  It is not expected that anything that is “perfect” or a “show”.  It is meant for one teacher to share their experience and encourage others to try new things with an open dialogue about how and what supports they will need. Our goal is that our teachers engage with one another to see what’s possible, work together to get there for every learner and find joy in the work.

 

**Interested in writing a guest blog for my site? Would love to share your ideas! Submit your post here.

 

Looking for a new book to read? Many stories from educators, two student chapters, and a student-designed cover for In Other Words.

Find these available at bit.ly/Pothbooks  

 

Books available

Guest Post by Liz Janusz, Instructional Coach in SD113A in Lemont, IL. @mrs_janusz

I know the end of the school year is near, but I can’t seem to stop thinking about next year already! I have many goals for next school year: get into some coaching cycles with our amazing teachers, share more professional development books, but my number one goal for next year is to begin to build a culture of readers in our school.

Creating a reading culture in a school is essential if we want to encourage students to become engaged and motivated readers. Reading for fun should be celebrated and encouraged throughout the school day! Developing a strong culture of readers takes time and commitment from all involved, which is why I’ve already started planning for next year!

What do you need to begin to build a culture of readers?

  • Everyone should have a clear understanding of why building a culture of readers is so important. Reading for pleasure is the BEST way to develop and strengthen literacy skills and improve academic achievement.
  • A shared vision of what your school’s reading culture means in real words.
  • Full support of all staff in the building, including custodians, PE teachers, paraprofessionals, etc.
  • Books, books, and more books!

What are some things I can do to start building a culture of readers?

  • Encourage students to book talk the book they just finished reading to the rest of the class. Most of the time, they will be able to hook their peers on a book better that we could! Peer recommendations are one of the most powerful ways we can get more books into the hands of students!
  • Offer book clubs during the lunch periods. Pick a few books from an award list (Caudill, Newbery, Monarch, etc) and offer the chance for students to come in during their lunchtime to discuss the book that everyone is reading. Picking a book from an award list, will more than likely will leave them wanting to read the rest of on the list!
  • Set up an area in the school library where teachers can leave book recommendations for students.
  • As you are walking around the hallways, try simply carrying a book with you. I’m shocked at how many kids stop me in the hallway when I am carrying a book! They want to either tell me that they are reading it too or want me to tell them what they book is about.
  • Make your classroom library and sacred and inviting space. Don’t just throw random books in tubs and be done with it. Get your students involved and be thoughtful about how you arrange your library so it would be most accessible for your class.
  • Make books available all throughout the building! Put some shelves in the hallways and make displays based on what grade levels are teaching about or highlight a certain genre.

How can I get ALL staff members involved?

  • Over the summer have students and staff take pictures of themselves reading and post them with a school hashtag. When school begins in the fall create a slidedeck with all the all different pictures so we can celebrate all of the summer reading!
  • Create “What I’m Currently Reading” signs for EVERY SINGLE staff member in your building. These can hang outside their classroom, office, lunchroom, gym etc. Staff members can update these every time they read a new book. Students can see that all staff members value reading for fun and will hopefully get them excited about their own reading.
  • Set up a book swap! Have all teachers look through their classroom libraries and select books that they would put in the swap. Other teachers and students could then come look through the books and decide which “new” books they would like in their library. Everyone gets “new” books for their library, without spending money!
  • Make sure your school has a wide variety of books! For example, there are a lot of great math books out there. Buy some for your math teachers to have in the classroom that they can read aloud or reference while teaching.

 

**Interested in writing a guest blog for my site? I would love to share your ideas! Submit your post here.

 

Looking for a new book to read? Many stories from educators, two student chapters, and a student-designed cover for In Other Words.

Find these available at bit.ly/Pothbooks  

 

Books available

One of the things that I love the most about Buncee is that it can be used in so many different ways, not only for instruction in our classrooms but also in life. I have used Buncee to create cards for family and friends, personal business cards, graphics for Twitter chats and webinars, quote graphics for my books, invitations, and more. When I decide to use digital tools in my classroom, I want students to practice the content in a more authentic and engaging way, while developing skills such as collaboration, critical thinking, problem-solving, and creativity that can be transferred to their future. In using digital tools like Buncee, my hope is that they will also use them in other classes, for personal use, and will share them with family too.

Each year, I continue to explore new ideas to have students create with the content, rather than doing the exact same project or using traditional worksheets or other assessment methods. For years, I assigned students to complete very rigid projects in the same format and left little up to student choice. Now, after seeing the benefits of being more flexible with my instructional methods, I’d rather open it up more to student choice and see what students come up with.

Finding time to explore new resources can be a challenge because our lives as educators becomes quite busy and we may find ourselves lacking in time to really explore a variety of options for use in our classroom. This is another one of the reasons that I choose Buncee and appreciate the team’s investment in offering more than just one way for students to create. It truly has become a go to multi-purpose platform that can do so much, that I feel pretty comfortable in saying that the possibilities really are endless when it comes to creation with Buncee.

Learning about students and pushing them to explore

At the start of each school year, I focus my efforts on student relationships, learning about my students and also providing opportunities for them to learn about one another. In the past I have done this by using activities in our classroom such as ice breakers or having students work together on different review games and other in class collaborations like that. But this year I decided to do something a little bit differently to not only engage students in learning about the Spanish language and culture but to engage more in learning about one another. I came up with a project focused on using the “About Me” template in Buncee. I wanted students to share who they were and create one slide to show this using words, animations, stickers, and other add-ins. My hope was that by looking at each student’s slide, we would understand one another better and relate to each other based on similarities and differences.

I also thought this would be a good opportunity for them to choose and learn a little about a place where Spanish is spoken and create an “About_(country)_____” to share that information with the rest of the class. But I also realize that there are many students who are visual learners like me and I wanted to encourage students to be able to quickly look at and process information and represent it in a different way. Rather than simply restating the same content, push them to apply it at a higher level or find a different way to demonstrate an understanding of a concept.

I also wanted students to choose a Spanish speaking country and I placed a limit on the number of actual words they could use because I wanted them to represent what they had learned about the place that had chosen using the Buncee features. The topics they had to include were: languages spoken, school subjects, foods, activities, and other information like that that they could display using Buncee.

How did it go?

It was a fun activity and I learned so much about them and they learned about each other and what life is like in countries where Spanish is spoken. We shared them on a Buncee board which made it easy to access and created a colorful display of students and their creativity. Students shared their slides and gave a brief description in Spanish about themselves and made connections with their classmates. We had good conversations exchanging our likes, dislikes, and learning about our backgrounds. For the second slide, students

were able to get a quick glimpse of different Spanish-speaking countries and begin to understand the culture of some of the places they would be studying. It was fun that they could only include 3D objects, animations, stickers or emojis, to represent the information for each country. So for visual learners, being able to choose the right object to use to share this information made the learning stick a little bit more. Students who enjoy creating but not drawing really enjoyed the activity.

One other feature that I thought was important to share with students was the new Immersive Reader and how it works. We enjoyed looking at all of the capabilities with it and using Buncee for learning!

 

 

 

**Interested in writing a guest blog for my site? I would love to share your ideas! Submit your post here.

 

Looking for a new book to read? Many stories from educators, two student chapters, and a student-designed cover for In Other Words.

Find these available at bit.ly/Pothbooks  

 

Books available

Guest Post by Jethro Jones

Twitter: @jethrojones http://twitter.com/jethrojones

Web site: http://transformativeprincipal.org

My name is Jethro Jones, and I am a principal in Alaska. I have helped three schools become trauma informed as a principal and many others through my podcast and Trauma course. I have worked long and hard to figure out some strategies that all school personnel can implement effectively. I’ve gone through a lot of trial and a lot of errors where I have really messed up and I’m going to share some of those secrets here.

Whether your school has created or attended a trauma-informed practices training or not, there are three things you can do to respond to situations in your school in a trauma-sensitive way. Implementing these strategies is simple enough that you can start implementing them today. They are powerful enough that you will see results almost immediately.

1. Ask Questions

Anytime you’ve got a kid who’s acting out or who’s struggling or whatever, instead of saying, “You need to be doing X,” ask the student questions.

This is really simple.

“How are you doing?”

“What are you working on?”

“Where are you heading?”

“What’s going on over here?”

“Can you help me understand…?”

Asking questions gives the student an opportunity to express him or herself in a way that allows them to deal with whatever’s going on.

The challenging part about asking questions is sometimes we as teachers turn questions into statements of condemnation!

For example, “Why are you running in the hall when you know you should be walking?” is more of a condemnation than a question.

We need to ask questions and figure out what is actually happening. Give them an opportunity to express themselves and deal with it. This is a hard thing for us. Because we have rules, we have expectations, we have policies and procedures.

And we as adults are very comfortable in those shoes.

And if we’re not comfortable, then it’s easier for us to say, Stop running. Stop doing that. Stop this. Stop that.

And that’s just not helpful to a child experiencing trauma. Because they’re not thinking–they’re only acting. We need to get them to slow down and think!

When you ask questions, you require the student to stop and think about what they are doing. Your voice doesn’t sound like a teacher in Charlie Brown when you ask a question.

Don’t turn questions into accusations, but make them clear, inquiring concern for the student.

You’ll get great results.

2. Don’t Take Things Personally

Every educator works hard and takes her job seriously and personally, and teachers put so much into their work.

And I don’t mean don’t take your work personally. What I mean is, don’t take the students actions towards you personally.

They’re most likely not a personal attack.

Yes, they will hurt. Yes, it will be uncomfortable. But you can’t take what they do, and think they’re acting out towards you to hurt you personally, that’s just not what is happening. Even when we feel like it is.

Kids desire to please the adults around them. Kids desire to make good choices.

The number of reasons that they have acting out is probably innumerable.

It’s rare when a student wakes up and says, boy, Mrs. Jones really is going above and beyond and helping me at school, I should totally do something that hurts her today. That’s not what kids do.

Sometimes, kids don’t know how to react to someone giving them positive attention, and they attempt to push them away. I once had a student who found out she was moving away from the school, and proceeded to destroy all the hard work her teachers had been putting in. When we talked to her, she was finally able to articulate that it was easier to leave with people mad at her so she didn’t feel like she was missing them as much, because you don’t miss people who are mad at you.

So there are two things you can do. Number one, ask, why is this kid doing this?

Number two, what can you do to deal with this behavior?

We as educators have to recognize that we can’t change anybody, every person has to make that choice for him or herself. We can certainly put things in place to help them make good choices, which we do all the time.

But we cannot change anybody. They need to change themselves.

We need to be sure that we are making choices that allow us to not take it personally like they’re attacking us, because even if they do attack us, it’s not personal. Kids are naturally kind, nice, wonderful, sweet, thoughtful little human beings. It’s when they’ve had these adverse childhood experiences, that they start acting differently.

And what our role is, is to help them to be successful even when they’ve had those experiences.

3 Know Your Role

The image above is a powerful way to make sure that people know their role is in a school that is trauma informed. Get a printable version here that you can use as a handout.

You’re not a counselor or a social worker. You’re an educator. You shouldn’t try, and NOBODY should expect you to be anything you’re not.

Could you be a therapist, counselor, or social worker if you tried? Yes. Do you have what it takes? Absolutely!

When a student doesn’t know how to read, what do we do? We teach them.

When a student doesn’t know how to write, what do we do? We teach them.

When a student doesn’t know how to drive or swim, or do whatever, what do we do? We teach them,

When a student doesn’t know how to behave, what do we do? Usually we punish them, what we should do is teach them.

And so our role as educators is to teach and help kids learn.

Now, there are so many different ways to do this!

Our purpose here is not to discuss all the many ways we can teach them, but to emphasize that it is our role to teach them, regardless of how they come to us.

Now, I want to share an experience that is really powerful. In her book, Allison Apsey shares a very similar experience. There are certain students that take up all your time! You are constantly spending time with those students, recognizing that it is worth the time and effort to intentionally and proactively spend time with those students that take up all your time,

if you’re going to be spending time with them anyway, why not work with them to get support in advance, why not work with them to build that relationship?

I call this Proactive Teaching. Some call it check and connect, or check in check out.

These students that are really struggling need additional support. You’ve got to have good Tier 1 behavior expectations and practices in place, but you and I both know there are kids for whom that doesn’t work, and they are the kids that reside in Tier 3! They need the extra help.

Instead of waiting for this student to be sent down to the office, we proactively go teach this student how to make good choices. Don’t think you can do this with 100 kids! It won’t work.

Find those two (or maybe three) students and get with them before they cause the trouble. Take the initiative and connect with them before they can get into trouble. Get with them before they get overwhelmed and can’t perform. Get with them before they wreak havoc in your class!

I had one student who would have a meltdown nearly every day because he was so worried about his mom and young sister. Instead of waiting for his behavior to cause him to be taken out of class, I met up with him before he had a chance for that, and talked about how things were going and what I could do to help him. Then, when his meltdown would inevitably come, we already had a connection that day.

Did this take a lot of time? Yes.

Was it worth it? Yes, it was, because it was so much better to do that in a positive, preventive proactive way than it was to deal with the issues and problems that he was going to have after the fact. Because when he had a bad day, he wanted to get it out in an aggressive way that hurt other kids, and that just wasn’t going to work in our school.

So instead of spending the 30 minutes trying to calm him down after a problem out on the playground, we spent 20 minutes before and during recess to give him that support.

It wasn’t my role to help him deal with his issues at home. I needed to be a trusted adult who was teaching him how to deal with things at school. Of course, a counselor was involved to help him deal with the challenges he faced at home.

To recap:

1. Ask questions.

2. Don’t take it personally

3. Know your role.

These three strategies will help you out immediately with whatever challenges you are facing in your school. If you need additional help or support along the way, please reach out to me by email or at my web site: jethrojones.com/trauma

 

**Interested in writing a guest blog for my site? I would love to share your ideas! Submit your post here.

 

Looking for a new book to read? Many stories from educators, two student chapters, and a student-designed cover for In Other Words.

Find these available at bit.ly/Pothbooks  

 

Books available

Guest Post by 

By Jorge Valenzuela

Get students computer science ready by teaching them how to think with computational thinking.

How Teachers Can Develop Computational Thinkers by Jorge Valenzuela

The demand for computer science (CS) in schools has many teachers wondering which components of CS they should implement first.

A couple of years ago, I asked myself the very same question, and I had to remind myself that creating a computer scientist could take up to 25 years! I was relieved that I wasn’t responsible for developing middle school computer scientists in only one semester.

I realized that what I needed to do was build the capacity of my students for deeper learning of the right skills — so they could experience success, which would inspire them to continue studying CS after leaving my class.

Advanced expertise in computer science requires knowledge in mathematics (namely discrete math and linear algebra) and problem-solving, and there are plenty of CS fundamentals to choose from.

In my previous position with Richmond Public Schools, we chose to dive in with computational thinking, programming and coding (yes, in that order). Because computational thinking (CT) is the highest order of problem-solving, is a cross-curricular skill, and is understandable to both machines and humans, I recommend building student CT competency by developing their versatility for recognizing and applying the four elements of CT to familiar problems/situations.

Video by JULES discussing the 4 elements of ‘Computational Thinking’

The Difference Between Computer Science and Computational Thinking

CS is part of computing education and it’s the foundation for ALL computing. So, in essence, CS is the study of computers and the algorithmic design processes in both hardware and software — their application and overall impact on society.

On the other hand, CT is a problem-solving skill(s) that involves decomposition, abstraction, pattern recognition and algorithm design.

Element 1: Decomposition

Facing large, complex problems will often discourage and disengage the students who aren’t fully equipped to begin the deconstructing process. Decomposition (like factorization) develops the skill of breaking down complex problems into smaller and more manageable parts, thus making even the most complicated task or problem easier to understand and solve.

To introduce your students to decomposition, begin by having them break down a simple task they do all the time, like brushing their teeth, baking a cake, making a sandwich or tying shoelaces. This will help them focus more on their ability to analyze and synthesize familiar information.

Next, introduce them to more complex problems/scenarios that are both unfamiliar and engaging enough to compel them to decompose them, such as investigating a crime scene, coping with the aftermath of natural disasters or planting a school garden.

Teachers who aren’t teaching traditional CS classes can help learners build their decomposition skills in their own subject areas by having them apply the concept to improving their writingcreating timelinesfactoring quadratics or understanding living organisms. CS teachers can start building student capacity for decomposition with this CT lesson by Code.org. In this lesson, students assume the role of imaginary players and figure out how to play a game with no given instructions.

Element 2: Pattern recognition

Pattern recognition is a skill that involves mapping similarities and differences or patterns among small (decomposed) problems, and is essential for helping solve complex problems. Students who are able to recognize patterns can make predictions, work more efficiently and establish a strong foundation for designing algorithms.

You can introduce pattern recognition by presenting a slide with pictures of similar types of animals or foods, such as pizza or desserts.

Next, have learners map and explain the similarities/differences or patterns. The beauty of this technique is that once students can describe one category (animal or dessert), they will be able to explain the others by following patterns.

For example, the general characteristics of desserts are that they are all sweet; they can be fruit, custard, puddings or frozen; and usually are served at the end of a meal. One or more dessert may be pink, have fruit and served cold, while another type may be yellow, have sprinkles and not use fruit.

Then task students with either drawing or making a collage of their favorite desserts using the patterns they identified (like in the examples above) to help them. Also, have them reflect on how they’d have to start from scratch with either creating or finding each instance of a dessert if they hadn’t first identified essential patterns (classification, color, texture, ingredients).

The primary goal here is to get them to understand that finding patterns helps simplify tasks because the same problem-solving techniques can be applied when the problems share patterns (pattern recognition is also used in mathmusic and literaturehuman intelligencehistoryweather, etc.).

Class projects can be more authentic by focusing application of pattern recognition in forensics, medical sciences, photo identification or behavioral patterns like web browsing and credit card spending.

Once students know what to do, have them map the patterns in some of the decomposed problems described above in Element 1. CS teachers will need to help students comprehend how computers use pattern recognition by numbers, text and pictures. Students using visual programming languages should also learn how the use of pattern recognition helps to find the commonalities of repetition in code for avoiding redundancy, and they can begin doing so with this Code.org lesson.

Element 3: Abstraction

Abstraction involves filtering out — or ignoring — unimportant details, which essentially makes a problem easier to understand and solve. This enables students to develop their models, equations, an image and/or simulations to represent only the important variables.

As the values of variables often change and can be dependent upon another, it’s important for students to be introduced to abstraction in relation to patterns. In the previous element, we noted common characteristics of desserts. Have students make a simple drawing of a dessert focusing on the important/common features (like classifications) and abstracting the rest (texture, fruit, sprinkles). The abstraction process will help them create a general idea of what a problem is and how to solve it by removing all irrelevant details and patterns (abstraction is also used in math and when creating models — the water cycle, the nitrogen cycle, the rock cycle, etc.).

CS teachers will need to help students focus on the layers (or levels) of abstraction they will want in the models they develop, along with correlations between abstraction and pattern generalization to figure out the right relationships between abstracted variables to accurately represent a problem. They also need to understand how abstractions are built with purpose and can represent an entire class of similar objects. CS students can become excellent coders using abstraction. Use this lesson to help them get started.

Element 4: Algorithm design

Algorithm design is determining appropriate steps to take and organizing them into a series of instructions (a plan) for solving a problem or completing a task correctly. Algorithms are important because they take the knowledge derived from the previous three elements for execution.

Keep it simple when teaching algorithms to students and have them create small plans using their newly learned CT skills, again using simple functions like brushing teeth, baking a cake, making a sandwich, tying shoelaces. Each algorithm must have a starting point, a finishing point and a set of well-defined instructions in between.

CS teachers will also need to help students understand that algorithm design builds upon the previous three elements — which moves a problem from the modeling phase to the operation stage. Students will also need to learn to design algorithms that are both efficient and allow for automation through the use of computers.

Also, by learning discrete math and how to create flowcharts, students can practice and build expertise in algorithmic thinking and design over time. Here is a great compilation of lessons for helping students bridge the gap between understanding basic algorithms to actual programming.

Resources to get started

Here are a number of resources to turn to for help:

Remember, learning has no finish line!

Take a moment to reflect on the words of Dr. Stephen R. Covey, “Though you may find some of it to be simple common sense, remember, common sense is not common practice, and I guarantee that if you will focus your efforts in these areas, you will find that great peace and power will come into your life.”

I believe these words can be applied to learning CT (and any new concepts or practices) as we help our students use what they already know to develop their CS superpowers!

Coding is a superpower video by Code.org

This article is adapted from an original post on this link.

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Jorge Valenzuela is a teacher at Old Dominion University and the lead coach at Lifelong Learning Defined. Additionally, he is a national faculty of PBLWorks and a lead educator for littleBits. His work is aimed at helping educators understand and implement computational thinking, computer science, STEM, and project-based learning.

You can connect with Jorge @JorgeDoesPBL via Twitter and Instagram to continue the conversation.

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