Dist. 204 gets national grant to improve students' 'computational thinking'

  • Students in Michelle Johnson's sixth-grade essential tech class at Still Middle School work on coding Thursday at the Aurora school. Indian Prairie Unit District 204 plans to add some of the thinking skills behind computer work into more of the curriculum during the next three years using a grant from the National Science Foundation.

      Students in Michelle Johnson's sixth-grade essential tech class at Still Middle School work on coding Thursday at the Aurora school. Indian Prairie Unit District 204 plans to add some of the thinking skills behind computer work into more of the curriculum during the next three years using a grant from the National Science Foundation. Brian Hill | Staff Photographer

  • Johan George works on coding Thursday in Michelle Johnson's sixth-grade tech essentials class at Still Middle School in Aurora school. The school and all others in Indian Prairie Unit District 204 are participating in a National Science Foundation grant to incorporate "computational thinking" into more of the curriculum at a younger age to help students, especially those from low-income backgrounds, succeed at computer science.

      Johan George works on coding Thursday in Michelle Johnson's sixth-grade tech essentials class at Still Middle School in Aurora school. The school and all others in Indian Prairie Unit District 204 are participating in a National Science Foundation grant to incorporate "computational thinking" into more of the curriculum at a younger age to help students, especially those from low-income backgrounds, succeed at computer science. Brian Hill | Staff Photographer

  • Michelle Johnson works with Still Middle School sixth-grader student Bibiana Carpia in her essential tech class about coding Thursday at the Aurora school.

      Michelle Johnson works with Still Middle School sixth-grader student Bibiana Carpia in her essential tech class about coding Thursday at the Aurora school. Brian Hill | Staff Photographer

 
 
Updated 10/18/2018 6:12 PM

There's a certain kind of thinking that helps students do better in the complex realm of computer science and digital technology.

It's a type of thinking based in problem solving, logic, processing and organization.

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This is a type of thinking Indian Prairie Unit District 204 plans to further embed into education at all levels during the next three years as one of three districts in the nation to receive a grant from the National Science Foundation.

The grant, distributed through an educational innovation nonprofit called Digital Promise Global, gives District 204 $100,000 each year to focus on improving the type of brain skills that lead to success in computer-related fields.

Educators call this skill set "computational thinking." District 204 wants to focus on improving the strength of such skills in low-income students.

"Our data shows that we don't have a high percentage of our students from low-income families that participate in coursework in this area," said Kathy Pease, chief academic officer. "So we'd like to concentrate in that area and help bring awareness, as well as provide some of those skills to all of our students."

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

The other districts receiving portions of the grant -- Iowa City Community School District in Iowa and Talladega County Schools in Alabama -- are focusing on improving computational thinking in minority and non-English-proficient students, or girls and low-income students, respectively.

Brian Giovanini, District 204's director of elective curriculum, is leading the charge to improve computational thinking by making sure these mental processing skills are not only taught in middle and high school classes such as computer science, coding, web design or engineering, but also incorporated as a way of thinking in everyday classes for younger kids.

Using money from the grant, Giovanini will attend meetings with the Iowa and Alabama districts, create a plan for building new thinking skills into the curriculum, and work with large numbers of educators in the district of 28,000 students to ensure they know how to teach these new thought strategies.

"The focus is how to embed computational thinking into current areas of curriculum so it's not a separate entity," Pease said. "So it's not just a computer science class, but it's a way to help students use those thinking processes in whatever subject or content area they're studying."

Giovanini said he's beginning his work now, and the district might roll out some updated instruction next fall. No matter what career students pursue, Giovanini said it will be important for them to think in an organized, logical way as they use computers to help solve problems and process information.

"It goes back to the idea that as jobs change over the next 10, 15, 20 years," Giovanini said, "computing is going to be a component of all of those. It's giving all kids that opportunity."

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