Effective, District-Wide Implementation of Physical Computing Teaches Programming and Computational Thinking

Adams 12 Five Star School District, CO

When Adams 12 Five Star Schools needed to create a new seventh-grade computer science course, they turned to SparkFun

In 2018, Adams 12 Five Star Schools, a district of more than 38,000 students in Adams County, Colo., created a new seventh-grade computer science course as part of a larger initiative to develop a computer science pathway throughout the district. The district had seen a growing interest in similar courses at the high school level, and needed to branch into lower grades to better prepare students for AP Computer Science Principles. Before tackling course development, the curriculum team examined the skills students needed for the ninth-grade course, and mapped backward to figure out what students should learn in each grade in order to be successful.

“[micro:bit] is something that is tactile, so [students] can hold in their hands, and they love playing with it. But, it’s not overwhelming for teachers. No matter where [students] are as learners, they can take [micro:bit] and implement it and feel successful and meet their needs.

Christina EspinoTechnology teacher and digital literacy coach at Hulstrom K-8
Adams 12 Five Star Schools

Selecting the Right Tool

Once the standards had been assigned and a basic curriculum outlined for the seventh-grade course, the Five Star Schools team began researching the best tools for their needs. Almost immediately, the micro:bit stood out for its price point and vast capabilities, and they began looking for a supplier.

Creating a True Partnership

With SparkFun, they found a partner that could not only supply hardware, but was also able to help guide the course creation, perform professional development training and assist with documentation support. SparkFun helped the curriculum team select the best products for their needs, ultimately settling on SparkFun micro:bit Educator Lab Packs.

"The partnership with SparkFun was really instrumental to the creation of the learning progression that we made."

Anna O

Anna OttoComputer Science & Online Learning Coordinator

“The partnership with SparkFun was really instrumental to the creation of the learning progression that we made. We already knew how we wanted to group the standards, and once we established the tool, we really needed a lot of help in figuring out what the best approach would be to teach with that tool and meet the standards,” said Anna Otto, the computer science & online learning coordinator for Adams 12 Five Star Schools.

In the span of a year, SparkFun helped Adams 12 Five Star Schools finalize the curriculum for the computer science course and trained the teachers who would be teaching the new class in the coming school year. “Initially, there was a lot of hesitation and uncertainty around using the micro:bit and that physical computing piece, because a lot of our teachers didn’t have that experience, even within our curriculum team, which is where the partnership with SparkFun was really helpful,” said Otto. “Once we were able to create and deliver the professional development for our teachers, that really brought the anxiety level down, and the teachers have been really happy with how it’s been going. They realize that it’s actually not that difficult to learn how to code and program and teach computer science concepts using micro:bit.”

A Successful Rollout

The new course has been a resounding success for both teachers and students.

“Having the opportunity for kids to explore through this class has been amazing, because we’re really seeing kids make these connections between and among the classes,” said Chelsea Behanna, principal of Rocky Top Middle School. “Because of this class and their experience in computer science and using micro:bits, they are seeing that there are career possibilities that aren’t even imagined yet that they could create.”

"The training that we’ve had increased the confidence level and the tutorials provided are a great scaffold for teachers that don’t feel super comfortable."

Michelle SchneiderComputer Science Instructor at Silver Hills Middle School
Adams 12 Five Star Schools

The Impact of Physical Computing

"Having the opportunity for kids to explore through this class has been amazing, because we’re really seeing kids make these connections between and among the classes."

Chelsea B

Chelsea BehannaPrincipal of Rocky Top Middle School

In the classroom, teachers love the physical computing aspect of micro:bit, which gives students a tangible connection to coding.

“Students, especially middle school students, are so tactile in everything that they do,” Behanna said. “To learn the language of coding and the language of technology, having their hands on something is the easiest way to learn something and get it to stick in their minds.”

Looking forward, Otto said, “we’ve had a lot of feedback both from teachers, and indirectly from students, about the excitement and interest in the course and the engagement, to the point we are realizing we are probably going to have to up our game in our eighth-grade computer science class and make that even more engaging because this one has probably blown that one out of the water.”

District Stats

Adams 12 Five Star Schools
38,870 students enrolled 52 schools, seven middle schools
Located in Adams County, Colorado