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Committee explores K-12 computer science curriculum for Palo Alto

Group aims to 'make computer science accessible to everyone'

A new Palo Alto school district committee has been charged with exploring and eventually recommending a computer science curriculum for all students, from kindergartners through high schoolers.

The Computer Science Curriculum Design Advisory committee, which started meeting in full last month, is researching available curriculum that would shift computer science from an elective pursued by interested students to a mainstream part of teaching and learning in the school district.

Part of the group's goal is "to make computer science accessible to everyone," said Chief Academic Officer for Secondary Education Sharon Ofek, who is co-chairing the new committee. "We want our students to think of computer science as having application in their lives, and having exposure to it in our school system is really important to that goal."

The 30-plus member committee is made up of students, parents, teachers, staff and administrators from all levels of the district. They are helping to move the district toward one of its overarching goals adopted for this year: to approve and start implementation of a pre-kindergarten through 12th grade computer science curriculum.

The committee's creation was spurred by a state and national shift toward more standardized computer science curriculum. Last January, then-president Barack Obama announced an initiative to direct billions of dollars to states and school districts to support computer science curriculum. Only about a quarter of K-12 districts offer computer science, he said.

"Computer science isn’t an optional skill – it’s a basic skill, right along with the three 'Rs,'" Obama said.

Currently, Palo Alto Unified students are exposed to computer science at varying extents. Instruction is most "rich" at the high schools, Ofek said, with Advanced Placement computer science classes and courses focused on subjects like programming, robotics and engineering. All middle schoolers learn about computers as sixth-graders in one section of their "wheel" class, which exposes students to different topics they can pursue as electives in seventh and eighth grade. For the last two years, the district has also hosted a weekend CodeFest for students and families.

A more cohesive districtwide curriculum would build students' skills from their first days in the district. At young ages, instruction could take the form of concepts like "tinkering" and problem solving, Ofek said. Middle schoolers could progress to actual coding before beginning more challenging work in high school.

"It's a 21st-century skill, so we want to start early and take it all the way through our system," she said.

The committee is considering making computer science a graduation requirement, which some other school districts have done.

The group is aiming to make a presentation to the school board later this spring, with implementation expected in the 2018-19 school year.

The computer science committee meetings are open to the public and held at the district office. The committee will meet next on Monday, March 13, at 4:30 p.m. For more information about the committee, go to pausd.org.

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Comments

21 people like this
Posted by reflection
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Mar 9, 2017 at 11:12 am

It seems to me that a high quality mathematics education is a gateway to computer science. Logical step by step thinking can be developed in the context of mathematical problem solving. This will translate directly into writing programs. Rather than introduce a new subject in elementary school, the focus should be on improving the quality of mathematical instruction. Just MHO.


15 people like this
Posted by john_alderman
a resident of Crescent Park
on Mar 9, 2017 at 1:51 pm

john_alderman is a registered user.

First, I want to agree with reflection. It is kind of a joke to focus on computer science while shafting kids with the shoddy everyday math curriculum. Second, it shows how pathetically slow public schools change. You'd think in Palo Alto of all places they would have realized computer science was a "21st-century skill" about 40 years ago.


19 people like this
Posted by reflection agreed
a resident of Palo Verde
on Mar 9, 2017 at 3:04 pm

There is a common trend to think that if something will be needed for adulthood that it must begin as early as possible.
This is just simply not true. We do not need to introduce computer science to five-year-olds. The school year and school day is not being made longer. Every time we try to shoe horn something else in, then something already existing in the curriculum gets squeezed.

A very solid foundation in mathematics and literacy is what is needed in elementary skills. Then students will be ready to learn higher level computer skills when it is developmentally appropriate.

Children in this community are NOT technology deprived. I spend a lot of time at the local schools. This young generation is quite screen-addicted, and the school district is significantly feeding this addiction.


A humorous, but maybe eye-opening, analogy is sex. Yes, it's a part of a healthy adult life. That doesn't mean it needs to start in childhood. Younger isn't always better.


3 people like this
Posted by JustMe
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Mar 9, 2017 at 5:12 pm

When I was a kid, there were "the three R's": Readin', 'Ritein', and 'Rithmatic. They were the three core literacies that you had to have to be able to compete in the world. A fourth literacy has been added, though I can't get an "R" out of it: Programming. If you don't understand the fundamentals of programming you will be at a disadvantage in life, like you would if you were lacking in any of the other three literacies. I am glad the schools are recognizing this fact. No matter what else you do in life, competence in the (now) four literacies will make it better.


6 people like this
Posted by Good idea but...
a resident of College Terrace
on Mar 11, 2017 at 4:06 pm

While I agree in theory that a computer science class should be required to graduate high school, unfortunately one of the Paly High School Computer Science teachers is really bad and no one should be required to have their child experience that. Unless you already know the material or learn it on your own, you are out of luck. Because of the teachers union and how our school system works, incompetent teachers cannot be fired without extreme measures.

Here's a link: Web Link


Posted by Good Grief!
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis

on Mar 11, 2017 at 4:24 pm


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11 people like this
Posted by Krazy Kat
a resident of Barron Park
on Mar 13, 2017 at 10:19 am

Considering that many private schools, and I'm not talking elite here, have been doing this for years now, it's high time that this is introduced at about the 5th grade level ( as it is in China, India and much of Europe, along with algebra 2 and trigonometry).

Never thought that PAUSD would fall behind the private schools!

By the way, Max McGee really should be losing his job about now!


Like this comment
Posted by Douglas Moran
a resident of Barron Park
on Mar 13, 2017 at 2:12 pm

Douglas Moran is a registered user.

I have have a blog entry (Web Link) on the strategy and goals for expanding "computer science" curriculum that gives examples of a higher level approach.


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