Learning to Compute – Computing to Learn

A teacher development course proposal for Alabama public schools

This work is accompanied by The Case for Computing professional development day, the Clever Computing for Children student course, and other interventions.


It is axiomatic that teachers cannot teach what they do not know, and that knowledge is a consequence of experience. Therefore, if educators are expected to teach computer science across the grade levels and subject areas, they need high-quality educational experiences that reveal possibilities, develop their own fluency, and inform decisions about teaching computer science to young people.

The online course, Learning to Compute – Computing to Learn, is a comprehensive course customized to satisfy the Alabama CS standards and specific needs of participating educators. This ten-week[1] course created and taught by Dr. Gary Stager will integrate computer science concepts, effective pedagogical techniques, and programming/coding skills through mini-projects. 

Each week is framed around an open-ended computing project or challenge. Participating educators will be encouraged to share their work, provide peer feedback, and support each other in an asynchronous forum. Synchronous sessions, digital materials, and office hours will be deployed as necessary to support the learning community.

The course is introductory in nature and intended for K-12 educators. The first cohort will likely cater to the science consultants charged with the initial implementation of computer science across the curriculum. Subsequent sections of the course may be offered.

Rather than teach a bunch of vocabulary absent meaningful context, Learning to Compute – Computing to Learn focuses on learning-by-doing. Hands-on activities, open-ended projects, and ongoing collaboration will develop in-service educators prepared to help children develop agency over an increasingly complex and technologically sophisticated world. 

Teachers in the course will not only learn to teach computer science concepts to children, they will develop their own technology skills, and become more reflective in their pedagogical practice.

Course participants will:

  • Understand fundamental computer science concepts
  • Develop personal computing fluency
  • Think about thinking
  • Create with code
  • Improve debugging and problem-solving skills
  • Learn to teach diverse student populations with an open-ended project approach
  • Gain familiarity with a variety of accessible computing environments designed for learners and learning. Compare and contrast their affordances and constraints.
  • Build mathematical competence
  • Use modern tools for knowledge construction and collaboration
    Explore simple physical computing, electronics, robotics, and engineering with the micro:bit
  • Discuss the intellectual, creative, and academic benefits of computing
  • Read seminal articles about STEM and computing in education
  • Engage in simple action research projects by trying activities with students and sharing careful observations of their processes and artifacts

Concepts explored include:

  • Computer graphics
  • Animation
  • List processing
  • Data and representation
  • Computational and mathematical thinking
  • Logic
  • Modeling 
  • Debugging
  • Symbolic communication
  • Game design
  • Interactivity
  • User interface design
  • Physical computing and robotics
  • Generative design
  • Making thinking visible


Participating educators will need a laptop (preferable) or Chromebook, Internet access, access to the asynchronous software selected for use in the course (likely whatever you already use), an email address, and a BBC micro:bit Go Kit (micro:bit, battery box, batteries, USB cable).

The following software environments will be addressed and several will be used extensively during the course. They are all free[2] and mostly Web-based.

Primary software environments utilizedAdditional software environments introduced
Turtle ArtBeetleBlocks
Snap!Wolfram Language
Microsoft MakeCode 

About the instructor

Gary Stager, Ph.D. 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. Gary also helped design Pepperdine University’s pioneering Online Master of Arts in Educational Technology degree program in 1998.

When Jean Piaget wanted to better understand how children learn mathematics, he hired Seymour Papert. When Dr. Papert wanted to create a high-tech alternative learning environment for incarcerated at-risk teens, he hired Gary Stager. This work was the basis for Gary’s doctoral dissertation and documented Papert’s most-recent institutional research project.

Dr. Stager’s work has earned a Ph.D. in Science and Mathematics Education and he collaborated on a project that won a Grammy Award. Recently, Gary was invited by Fondazione Reggio Children to lead a public seminar on education in Reggio Emilia, Italy. He has taught everyone from preschoolers to doctoral students and advised schools, corporations, and governments across the globe.

Gary Stager is on the advisory board of the National Science Foundation funded projects, 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 the Science and Engineering Education for Infrastructure Transformation. He is considered one of the world’s leading authorities on learning-by-doing, robotics, computer programming and the maker movement in classrooms.

[1] The course duration is negotiable. 

[2] Lynx might incur a small fee.

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