Collaboration and Integration for Building CS Pathways at the Elementary Level
March 23 2021 · By Heather Cunningham
What creates the conditions for true collaboration and integration? It takes a desire to work together for a shared purpose and the ability to understand the old adage that “two heads are better than one.”
Computer science, computational thinking, and coding are three areas where collaboration and integration are not only easy; but can create a massive difference in student understanding. Our elementary students are “digital natives”, having grown up around technology. However, without direction and continual development of these skills, there is a potential to fall behind. This is where integration and collaboration play a key role.
Starting as early as Kindergarten, teachers can use safe, collaborative technology tools such as ScratchJr to grow and enhance students’ digital toolkit. ScratchJr helps students develop an understanding of computational thinking and block coding in a creative and iterative way. Teachers can use paired programming to have students collaborate on projects that may seem daunting on their own. Paired programming can also be used to develop listening skills, enhance communication skills, and allows students to generate and share ideas.
Collaboration is not just for students, however. Teachers that utilize and model a collaborative framework create students that are more likely to collaborate as well. How can teachers collaborate in schools? There are many ways. From having grade-level teachers partner on mutual student projects to designing learning opportunities with cross-content colleagues.
A former colleague gave me the idea of having “tech buddies” in addition to reading buddies. Our 2nd and 6th grade students collaborated on various technology/CS projects, including coding, Google presentations, and Makerspace learning. At another school, I worked with the music and art teachers to develop a shared integration project with our 5th grade students. The art teacher had students create a graphite image of the sun. The music teacher had students create chords on the ukulele. Then, I worked with students to record the sounds in Scratch and connected the work to the computer using a Makey Makey. There are countless ways that students and teachers can collaborate to make learning more fun and more concrete. Is there someone in your school that you can think of to collaborate with?
Integration is another important piece in creating lasting opportunities for students to work on CS skills and share their learning in the classroom. Many students thrive on the opportunity to be creative and show their learning using digital tools. Scratch and ScratchJr are an excellent way for students to do just that. After learning various block coding and computational thinking skills, students can take what they learn and work on content integration. For example, students could code sprites to share information about a historical figure, items in various habitats, or design a game that helps them practice their spelling words. Academic content is one area of integration, but coding and CS can also be used to work on social-emotional learning, school mission and values, and other aspects of school learning.
Funding for CS is not equitable and having a technology teacher is a privilege in many schools around the country. However, computer science does not have to be taught in isolation. In schools without a formal CS program, it is even more important that general education teachers learn how to effectively utilize computer science and computational thinking in the classroom. Finding ways to integrate what is already being taught with CS skills will allow students to learn and grow their digital footprint and amplify the level of understanding overall.
Collaboration and integration are important to the evolution of our digital natives. If these are not an option at your school, don’t be afraid to expand your community of practice (CoP) and reach out to educators in other schools, districts, or even other countries. As a classroom teacher, I often partnered my students with other students to share ideas using KidBlog or FlipGrid. We also utilized Mystery Skype to learn about and talk to people in countries around the world. As an educator, Instagram, LinkedIn, and Facebook all present incredible avenues to collaboration. TikTok even has a pretty extensive list of innovative educators that share their ideas and tips for CS learning and integration. If you are unsure where to start, I would recommend searching out educational and CS leaders to follow on Twitter. You could even check out BootUp’s Twitter feed to learn more about what we do and the fantastic districts and educators we work with.