Teaching informatics and robotics present their own set of challenges that teachers need to overcome to make sure that all students develop the necessary skills and gain more independence in applying them. One of the most prominent approaches toward school information technology (IT) education that has emerged within the ISTE standards framework is leading with instruction. Instructional leadership is seen as an innovative method of using technology in education and is seen as a more sustainable alternative to leading with the tool. The Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) has been making significant progress in implementing the ISTE standards, instructional leadership included. According to the ISTE standards leaders and evangelists at the LAUSD, there are several differences between leading with instruction and leading with the device, indicating the favorability of the former.
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In the outdated paradigm of technology use in the classroom, devices are evaluated separately from teachers’ leverage and skills. In other words, devices are contrasted against each other based on a particular set of criteria while the pedagogical effect of their introduction is largely ignored. At the LAUSD, the teaching staff deems it important to use their expertise to implement technology that would meet students’ needs.
Apart from that, the LAUSD questions the validity of the 1:1 model, within which ensuring that each student has at least one device is seen as central to IT education. The LAUSD teachers are aware that the presence of necessary equipment does not automatically mean that each student benefits from it. Therefore, the school prefers to make meaningful, personalized, and humanistic instruction a priority. It is argued that in this way, students of diverse backgrounds, abilities, and personalities will have a better chance of thriving academically and showing the best possible results.
The LAUSD has already taken many measures to meet the ISTE standards, which is reflected in the following artefacts, curriculum changes, and school philosophy shifts. The institution admits that one of the biggest challenges that students face these days is learning the competencies that would prepare them for college and future career. The first step toward achieving this goal is teaching students the right mindset as thought precedes action. In the school’s new LEGO Innovation Lab (LEGO Education), second graders learn engineering concepts. They build the Simple Machines LEGOS and engage with LEGO WeDo 2.0.
By doing that, students not only acquire technical skills but also learn how to communicate with each other and take ownership of their learning. The teacher does not interfere with their learning process and only provides mentorship when needed. The classes at the LEGO Lab meet the ISTE Standard for Students 5: Computational Thinker. Students break problems into component parts, extract key information, and develop descriptive models to understand complex systems or facilitate problem-solving.
To foster the growth mindset further, during the second semester, the LAUSD focused on Innovation Zone #3: Science Lab/Maker Space. At Innovation Zone #3, students have a chance to become scientists and engineers through a series of standards-based lessons and projects. The facility was built in alignment with the ISTE standards. According to the ISTE framework, innovation zones spread and accelerate a shared vision where all students find their creative voice. In the process of working at Science Lab/ Maker Space, students were able to change their roles from technology consumers to technology producers. This shift is in line with teacher Ms. Helen Garcia’s opinion: she says that the lab helps students with “setting learning goals” and becoming “self-aware of their learning preferences.” Innovation Zone #3 benefitted not only learners but also the teaching staff. In accordance with TRACK references, the teachers at the LAUSD were able to implement all three kinds of knowledge: content, pedagogical, and technological.
Another goal set by LAUSD for the year 2019 was to meet the ISTE Standard for Students 5: Computational Thinker, 5d. In alignment with the said standard, it is expected that students will understand how automation works and use algorithmic thinking to develop a sequence of steps to create and test automated solutions. This is accomplished by maintaining Innovation Zone #1 and training teachers to improve their competencies and expertise. Innovation Zone #1 is dedicated to coding and robotics; it is up and running during the day and after school.
as little as 3 hours
The LAUSD acknowledges that in the 21st century, the ability to code is bound to become one of the academic and professional necessities. At Innovation Zone #1, the curriculum goes beyond code and incorporates robotics and technology with collaborative STEAM activities and computational thinking. Students develop their computational and mathematical abilities as they code the Spheros and acquire hands-on, real-world experience. What is outstanding about the learning processes at Innovation Zone #1 is the independence that students achieve by overcoming challenges and pushing their limits. As prescribed in ISTE Student Standards, they formulate problem definitions appropriate for technology-assisted methods. By doing so, they enhance their skills in data analysis, abstract modelling, and algorithmic thinking. The teacher’s role is confined to coaching and mentoring, allowing students to come up with original solutions.
The wide use of technology has presented the younger generation with a unique set of challenges overcoming which might require external support. The LAUSD seeks to meet the ISTE Standard for Students 2: Digital Citizens. The 2a part of this standard suggests that students cultivate and manage their digital identity and reputation and are aware of the permanence of their actions in the digital world. At the LAUSD, students discuss the problems of online presence in the so-called Restorative Circles. These are teacher-led groups which through support and acceptance, enable students to adopt safe online behavior strategies. Blended Restorative Circles take part both offline and online with the latter enabled through the LAUSD’s Learning Management System (LMS).
Both kinds of Restorative Circles have already proven to be highly beneficial for students. The teachers have observed an increase in participation because students were given the freedom to take online classes. The participants enjoyed the feeling of belongingness: they understood that they were not alone and could count on their peers and teachers. This reduced their anxiety and prevented them from becoming disengaged and isolated. The LAUSD plans to promote safe online behavior further and empower its students.
Over the course of the past few decades, school education has undergone a significant paradigmatic shift. As school subjects gaining more traction than ever these days, informatics and robotics are not an exception. Their curriculums and teaching methods appear to be ever more leaning toward prioritizing students’ individualism and centering equity, access, and opportunity for all. In 2019, the LAUSD has made tangible progress in meeting the ISTE standards by running Innovation Zones and holding restorative circles. The new initiatives helped students to enhance both hard and soft skills as well as change their mindset to promote growth and independence.