Additional Info: Clever Computing for Children

Clever Computing for Children is an opportunity for schools to offer a world-class computation course to its students

What is Clever Computing for Children? 

Clever Computing for Children is an online computer programming course for upper elementary and middle school students taught by Dr. Gary Stager. Schools may enroll individual, groups, or classes of students for the eight-week course. Schools should select a fourth through eighth grade class to participate during the first iteration of the program. Mixed-age classes run as electives or afterschool courses are also possible. A limited number of schools will be accommodated each term.

Organization

There will be a thirty-to-sixty-minute synchronous Zoom session each week to introduce new concepts, answer questions, and share that week’s learning adventures (challenges). Videos of these sessions will be available immediately for students to consult and for those who miss the session for whatever reason. 

The rest of the week’s activities will take place asynchronously. Students will be encouraged to share their work to inspire peers and receive feedback. Questions are always welcome with an “ask three before me” protocol employed and encouraged. Students may contact the teacher (Dr. Stager) publicly or privately at any time within the course interface. “Office hours” may be scheduled as needed. Project work is expected to be shared online by the next synchronous session. Support materials and project briefs will be posted online for anytime anywhere retrieval. 

What makes this course different from other online computer science classes? 

Students in this course will learn from one of the world’s foremost authorities on learning by programming. Dr. Stager believes that computer programming is a new liberal art. It gives children agency over an increasingly complex and technologically sophisticated world. Programming is intellectually rich, creatively expressive, and fun. It is perfectly suited to a child’s remarkable capacity for intensity. 

In addition to teacher expertise, the content of the Clever Computing for Children experience is quite unique. Most schools offer computer literacy instruction that provide awareness or “do a little Scratch.” These courses endeavor to inspire children to go much deeper. Being online, even partially, allows kids to work on projects unencumbered by a traditional school timetable. Ingenuity, creativity, and “hard fun” will be prized. The Internet affords the opportunity for students to learn with and from an expert. It adds invaluable expertise to your faculty.

More than technology – mathematical thinking is at the core

Clever Computing for Children has a strong emphasis on thinking mathematically. Building on the powerful ideas of Dr. Seymour Papert, these courses offer opportunities for children to be mathematicians, rather than being taught math. Mathematics is a way of making sense of the world and computer programming is the way mathematics is made. If our goals are no more ambitious than improving achievement on the existing math curriculum, we would teach every child to program computers. Much of the school math curriculum has no relevance or meaningful context outside of computing. Clever Computing for Children will feature learning adventures in which programming, computer science, and mathematics reinforce each other without an emphasis on syntax or vocabulary.   

Computing makes project-based learning possible in mathematics. Even while designing graphics, storytelling, or gaming, mathematical thinking and computation are required to realize one’s ambitions. Debugging develops problem solving skills, resilience, independence, and other habits of mind critical for successfully navigating an uncertain future. 

Who should take the course?

  • Students who are ambivalent towards math
  • Students who are good at math
  • Students who enjoy computing
  • Students with varying levels of motivation
  • Students without access to formal computing experiences
  • Students who have “done Scratch”
  • Teachers

The secret sauce – teacher mentoring

As schools embrace the expectation that all teachers will teach computer science, models of what such teaching and learning look like are critical. When teachers see what is possible through the eyes, hands, and screens of students, they become motivated to learn and grow. Clever Computing for Children offers educators closest to the participating students to be mentored as part of the experience.

Teachers may participate in the course or observe students.  Video documentation should be assembled and edited to inspire teachers within your school and beyond. This work may also form the basis for ongoing action research projects at the pre-service and in-service levels. The participating class and site should be selected based on a willingness to be recorded, interviewed, and participate in the documentation process. 

What makes this course different from other online computer science classes? 

Students in this course will learn from one of the world’s foremost authorities on learning by programming. Dr. Stager believes that computer programming is a new liberal art. It gives children agency over an increasingly complex and technologically sophisticated world. Programming is intellectually rich, creatively expressive, and fun. It is perfectly suited to a child’s remarkable capacity for intensity. 

In addition to teacher expertise, the content of the Clever Computing for Children experience is quite unique. Most schools offer computer literacy instruction that provide awareness or “do a little Scratch.” These courses endeavor to inspire children to go much deeper. Being online, even partially, allows kids to work on projects unencumbered by a traditional school timetable. Ingenuity, creativity, and “hard fun” will be prized. 

Gary Stager began teaching children to program computers in 1982. Since that time, he has taught tens of thousands of educators to teach children to program. He has published countless articles, edited journals, and co-authored the influential book, Invent To Learn: Making, Tinkering, and Engineering in the Classroom, considered the “bible of the maker movement in schools.” Gary has consulted on the design of and written learning materials for LogoWriter, LogoEnsemble, and MicroWorlds. Dr. Stager led professional development in the world’s first 1:1 laptop schools and helped realize the potential of computer programming across the curriculum in countless schools around the world. He is on the advisory board of the National Science Foundation funded project, Beauty and Joy of Computing for New York City: Bringing a Rigorous Computer Science Principles Course to the Largest School System in the US and two other STEM NSF projects. He is considered one of the world’s leading authorities on learning-by-doing, robotics, computer programming and the maker movement in classrooms. 

Mathematical thinking 

Clever Computing for Children has a strong emphasis on thinking mathematically. Building on the powerful ideas of Dr. Seymour Papert, these courses offer opportunities for children to be mathematicians, rather than being taught math. Mathematics is a way of making sense of the world and computer programming is the way mathematics is made. If our goals are no more ambitious than improving achievement on the existing math curriculum, we would teach every child to program computers. Much of the school math curriculum has no relevance or meaningful context outside of computing. Clever Computing for Children will feature learning adventures in which programming, computer science, and mathematics reinforce each other without an emphasis on syntax or vocabulary.   

Computing makes project-based learning possible in mathematics. Even while designing graphics, storytelling, or gaming, mathematical thinking and computation are required to realize one’s ambitions. Debugging develops problem solving skills, resilience, independence, and other habits of mind critical for successfully navigating an uncertain future. 

Concepts explored in Clever Computing 

The following are some of the anticipated concepts and skills encountered in the course.  

Number sense, counting by various increments, sequences, patterns, polygons, addition, subtraction, multiplication, division, place value, decimals, fractions, randomness, coordinates, linear measurement, odd/even numbers, estimation, angles, scale, velocity, circles, arcs, area, perimeter, circumference, radius, diameter, integers, order of operations, angle measure, variables, pre-algebra,  representing data, Boolean logic, coordinate geometry, Euclidean geometry, gravity, absolute value, exponents, composite & prime numbers, probabilistic thinking, iteration, recursion, identifying patterns, number theory, procedural description, debugging. 

In addition to the mathematical experiences featured in Clever Computing for Children, the course is distinguished by the following features. 

  • Open-ended learning adventures 
  • Focus on generative knowledge construction  
  • Collaboration encouraged 
  • Creativity celebrated 
  • Independent inquiry 
  • Visible thinking via programming artifacts 
  • An approach to teaching compute programming (coding) as a liberal art 
  • Ungraded course 

Eight weekly learning adventures 

Each week, new programming concepts will be introduced, connections to powerful mathematical ideas will be made, and project ideas will be shared with students. These learning adventures benefit from an element of surprise and while planned in advance will be modified when necessary to meet the specific needs of the students. 

Each learning adventure experienced during this course integrates multiple concepts from the traditional math curriculum or explores the frontiers of math and science – occasionally both simultaneously. 

The element of surprise is critical for maintaining high levels of engagement. Listing tasks on a syllabus intimidates some students while allowing others to quickly finish their “work.” This course depends on students jumping into an open-ended learning adventure together and seeing what they can do. While the learning adventures have soft deadlines, it is hoped that students will continue working on projects that speak to them. Serendipitous twists and turns based on student experiences will be embraced. 

Software 

The goal of developing computing fluency requires a focus on developing skills and intuitions in a particular programming language. Comfort with a particular language and programming environment is essential for realizing one’s objectives. That said, since languages have different affordances and constraints, a few different programming environments will be introduced when appropriate. Concepts developed in one environment should easily transfer to another.  

Software toolbox

  • TurtleArt
  • Lynx
  • Microsoft MakeCode
  • Snap!
  • Wolfram Language

Each of the programming environments are Web-based and free (at least for the duration of the course in the case of Lynx). Students are expected to be able to create or use existing Scratch, Lynx, and Snap! Accounts for saving and sharing projects. School personnel should be able to assist with this process. Instructions will be shared. 

If the school has access to low-cost micro:bits, two to three weeks of the course will be dedicated to physical computing and robotics.

Pre-requisites 

There is an expectation that participating students are comfortable with using a computer, visiting a web site, and saving a file. Being able to copy and paste would be swell too. An ability to work independently is also helpful. 

Evaluation 

While there will be plenty of feedback provided by peers and the teacher, there will be no formal evaluation of students. Schools are expected to keep students active in the course. At the conclusion of the course, students will receive one of the following designations. 

What’s next 

Based on interest, more advanced subsequent courses may be offered, including robotics and physical computing. 

Applications for summer and fall 2022 cohorts are now being accepted

To enroll a class in your school, email gary [at] stager.org

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