Tag Archives: curriculum

Hour of Code: It Is Not Enough


By: Tony DePrato | Follow me on Twitter @tdeprato

The Hour of Codeis a very popular event and activity hosted by Code.org. Millions of students around the world participate in the large coordinated events, and continue to use the website to learn programming. Code.org is a good resource to get students and teachers interested in programming.

In the last year I have listened to numerous educators and administrators comment how their school participated in The Hour of Code. In many instances, I felt that these people believed this single event, and or uncoordinated participation of classes on the Code.org website, constituted a real effort in problem solving, computer science, design, and programming. I have news for everyone, an hour of programming, or even a month on Code.org, is only a half-step on a very long journey.

The Scope

When an educator thinks about the word mathematics they will cycle through categories of mathematics. These include, but are not limited to, geometry, algebra, trigonometry, calculus, applied math, statistical analysis, etc. Computer programming, no matter how graphical, has always been based on mathematics. If a student asked if they could do math for an hour once a year would that be celebrated?

The IEEE, which sets standards for engineering and technology worldwide, recently listed the top 10 programming languages in use in 2016:


Students would need to be exposed to at least three of these languages in order to find meaningful understanding outside of the classroom environment. In a balanced programming curriculum, students would spend at least a year with a new language, while incorporating any other languages they have learned.

The scope is immense. Within each language are tools and nuances that need to be explored. A student does not need to master three languages, but they need to know how to read them, research within them, and implement solutions by following best practice design patterns.

Programming (Coding) is not Computer Science (CS)

In a programming module or course, students can freely create, and create for a variety of audiences. Students can solve problems, make random games, or simply create a utility to improve a user experience.

In a computer science (CS) module or course students need to look at a problem, study a set of data, create a hypothesis, and test that hypothesis. Here is an example of a computer science activity.

Spending small amounts of time exploring programming does not develop the skills needed to engage in CS driven initiative. K-12 curricula need to specifically define CS modules and standards. Educators need to be cautious of students working without testing ideas and well articulated theories. Accidents happening outside the context of understanding will often be confused with competence.

10,000 Hours

In the book Outliers, author Malcolm Gladwell says that it takes roughly ten thousand hours of practice to achieve mastery in a field.

There are 52 workweeks in a year. The standard North American workweek is 40 hours long. That is around 2080 workweek hours a year. In roughly five years, a person could develop a new mastery if they solely focused on that endeavour.

Students, however, cannot do the same thing everyday for five years. Students need a well rounded education, and time is in high demand and short supply. In fact, if students used only their scheduled time for programming, they would need 17-21 hours a week for 13 years, to reach 10,000 hours of mastery.

I am not an advocate of an unbalanced and obsessive lifestyle. To help students choose a healthy and steady path to mastery, the curriculum needs to encourage independent study, portability, and third-party opportunities.

Independent study is critical to develop competency in programming or CS. Independent study requires students to find problems and propose solutions. Teachers giving students problems to solve on a flexible schedule is not the same as a true independent study.

Portability simply refers to the students ability to work anywhere. Students are people, and people find inspiration in the most random of places. When inspiration hits, work needs to happen.

In 2005-2007, I developed a partnership with Sun Microsystems in the Middle East and my school. They had a training division (and separate training company). I wanted my computer science students to learn Linux with corporate professionals. This third-party relationship was the first I had ever created for students, and it was one of the best opportunities I have ever given students. Schools need to make these relationships, and if possible, allow the experiences to happen off-campus.

Programs like The Hour of Code are fun and engaging. However, as educators and professionals we cannot lose sight of the goal. All of us must help students find new opportunities, choose a path to mastery, and keep them moving after 100s of potential hours of disappointment.

Mastery does not mean you are finished learning, it means you have accepted you will never stop learning.


Problem Solving with Technology: A List of Topics and Standards


By Tony DePrato | Follow me on Twitter @tdeprato

Core Concepts and Definitions

Digital Native is a term that refers to children who have been born after the advent of the modern personal computer and affordable personal laptop. There is a belief that these children have a very high aptitude with technology. This curriculum plan completely disagrees with this belief and reaffirms that all children need a solid foundation in problem solving in, and creating with, technology. The normal life of the average Digital Native is one of a consumer and user of things others have created.

Computer Science is not programming, although programming is required to practice the discipline. Computer Science is a field of study which seeks to automate processes using algorithms, and to solve problems using algorithmic based strategies. Computer Science often involves simulating outcomes using data-sets, after creating a hypothesis. A person who studies computer science may not be able to creatively express themselves through the mediums of web design, multimedia, game design, etc.

Programming (Coding) is a generic term used to categorize the actions taken to make computers, devices, websites, games, etc. function. Programming is not a single knowledge base. Programming is comprised of vast options which are explored based-on the type of outcome needed and the type of system that is being engaged. A programmer may have aptitude to perform computer science related work, or, they may not. Students can learn to program hardware that they set free to interact with the world. Machines of all types can be programmed. Limiting exposure to programming mediums limits opportunity.

Cloud-based educational technology resources refer to environments such as Google Apps for Education and Office 365 for Education.

Portfolios and Project Tracking

In an ideal world, at the end of each semester student work should be submitted to the school following this model:

  • Each student must submit three pieces of work (good, average, and below average) per year they have created, even if that work is only documentation. The work must be original and comply with all copyright laws.
  • The school will submit the work to a network/district wide repository that utilizes standard tagging and search techniques found in cloud-based environments. Think #hashtags.
  • Each school/district can then evaluate what students are doing.
  • Students participating in third-party curricula, such as the IB Program, will be required to produce work for internal and external assessments. The final marking of these assessments can be compared to previous projects to help internally moderate scores and performance indicators.
  • Students from Year 11 should have a personal repository to share their portfolio work outside of the school community. This public repository should be maintained for two years after graduation.

Problem Solving with Technology by Year Level

Year 3 (8-9 Years Old) :

  • Object Based Drag-and-Drop Trial and Error Systems (An Example would be SCRATCH)
  • Arduino Based Manipulatives (An Example would be Makey Makey)

See Standards

Year 4 :

  • Object Based Drag-and-Drop Trial and Error Systems
  • Arduino Based Manipulatives
  • Programmable Robotics (An Example would be Lego, VEX, or similar)
  • Mechanical Skills Challenge Based Competitive Robotics

See Standards
Year 5 :

  • Arduino Based Manipulatives
  • Programmable Robotics
  • Challenge Based Competitive Robotics
  • Mathematic Basics with Javascript.
  • Hyperlinking Concepts using Cloud-based Resources
  • Asynchronous Communication Concepts using Cloud-based Resources

See Standards
Year 6 :

  • Arduino Based Manipulatives
  • Programmable Robotics
  • Operating System Manipulation
  • Mathematics, Arrays, Functions, and External Referencing with Javascript.
  • Hyperlinking Concepts using Cloud-based Resources
  • Asynchronous Communication Concepts using Cloud-based Resources
  • Peer Review Concepts using Cloud-based Resources

See Standards
Year 7 :

  • Arduino Based Manipulatives
  • Operating System Manipulation
  • Computer-to-Computer Communication without the Internet
  • Mathematics, Arrays, Functions, and External Referencing- Language Choices Flexible
  • Peer Review Concepts using Cloud-based Resources
  • Team Base Projects Using Arduino, Robotics, or Client Side Programming, with Documentation
  • Story Boarding Concepts for Media and Games

See Standards
Year 8 :

  • Computer-to-Computer Communication without “The Internet” (This refers to learning simple protocols)
  • Game Programming with Story Boards – Language Choices Flexible
  • Tutorial and Documentation Development for Primary School Learners
  • Team Base Projects Using Arduino, Robotics, or Client Side Programming, with Documentation
  • Local Server Concepts with Pre-Configured Servers Hosting WordPress (An Example would be MAMP or XAMP)

See Standards
Year 9 :

  • Game Programming with Story Boards – Language Choices Flexible
  • Tutorial and Documentation Development for Primary School Learners
  • Local Server with WordPress and Customisations
  • Local Server to Live Server Migration with WordPress
  • Math and Program Control Basics with Java, Javascript, PHP, or Python

See Standards
Year 10 :

  • Robotics or Automation without the GUI
  • Java or Python Core Programming Libraries
  • SQL Basics with Java, Javascript, PHP, or Python
  • Math Concepts: Game Theory and Probability (To be Simulated with Programming)

See Standards
Years 11 & 12 :

  • IB Computer Science
  • Public Website Design and Development
  • Mobile Game Development or Flash Game Development
  • Design Technology- CAD and 3D Printing

See Standards

Open the Door

   A few weeks ago, this article, “A veteran teacher turned coach shadows students for two days—a sobering lesson learned” made the rounds on my Twitter feed. It shares what an Instructional Coach learned by shadowing two high school students for two days. The information was disheartening. The students sat for extended periods of time, were asked to listen instead of participating, and were redirected to the point of potentially feeling like their presence in school was a “nuisance.”

In thinking about it though, I wondered what would happen if the same Instructional Coach shadowed a teacher at that school for two days or a week. To get the full picture of course, would require arriving early and staying after school for meetings or events. It wouldn’t be a high-quality experience unless she shadowed the educator into the evening and maybe even through to the weekend workday.

I’m not defending the lackluster learning environment she encountered. Instead, I’m wondering though if this is the place to stop the search? Maybe we need to look more deeply into why teachers might be teaching the way they are.

When observing in a classroom, I search for an entry point to the teacher’s instructional practice which would allow me to focus on what she/he needs to do next, to improve. It is hard to do with all that is happening in a classroom setting, especially in a rich and engaging elementary classroom where there is so much going on. Watching to see what is going well and can be built upon, isn’t easy.

What I do know though, is I’ve never encountered a teacher who gets out of bed in the morning and says, “My goal is to be boring, ineffective, or lackluster today.” If it is happening there is a reason.

As a teaching principal, I believe my job is always to be on the lookout for ways to improve teacher practice. If I was to shadow a teacher all day for many days, I believe I would see and need to consider the following as affecting the both the teaching and learning:

Teachers might be hyper-focused in the wrong ways because of a lack of focus in the school. Often initiatives seem focused, when launched. However, depending on where each teacher is in relation to the effort, there are hidden, invisible steps for each person to get there. Add multiple initiatives, as many schools do, and suddenly it isn’t always clear what the goal is or where things will head. At that moment, we all hold on fiercely to what we can.

Teachers might not have the training necessary to teach effectively, especially if we are adopting new practices. We know that learning and understanding are significant tasks. We know it takes years for our students to develop real understanding. It is the same for our teachers; however too often we expect understanding and change after a weekend workshop or a book study. Teachers who need more time to learn, often can’t get it.

Teachers might be overwhelmed with all the other non-teaching things they have to attend to and manage. Teachers are not only teaching a course or class; they are also sponsors for clubs, coaches, and chaperones. While it might not seem like a direct link, it does speak to what we all do when we are busy, stay with what is simple and straightforward to manage.

Teachers might be struggling with the real pressure of working with parents. While this partnership is vital, it can be difficult. Today’s parents are highly involved and can cause significant stress for the teacher. Navigating those relationships is important. However, many parents feel comfortable when “doing school” can be easily labeled and quantified. For the teacher then, it can be easier to simply teach like we’ve always done it.

I would be hard pressed to find a teacher who would let me shadow them for two days or a week. It would be a highly revelatory and open experience.  It would take courage on the part of the teacher to do what they do and then trust me to learn from the experience as a way to help shape future decisions. However, as I write this, I believe it is something we should strive for: opening the door to being seen and to seeing.

Real change and real progress require real transparency. Until our schools (not just our teachers) can be places where honest inquiry into our work can be the norm, we will continue to hear stories like this and we will continue to be amazed things haven’t changed.


A Human Curriculum

I’ve never been at the beginning of something before. I have never started a trend or discovered a band. Don’t get me wrong, I’m into what’s in, but I’ve always lived overseas and often when I hear about it or see it, it usually isn’t cutting edge or new, but tried, true and still viable.

Today however, I’m a first, an early-adopter and a pioneer. One of the few at the forefront and beginning of something new which is also, potentially, the next “big-thing”.

Interested? Well, I think you should be. If you are an educator interested in teaching relevant, transformative and real things to your students so they are truly prepared for the invisible “what’s next” in our ever-changing world, then I have some news for you.

The Common Ground Collaborative (CGC) might just be that absent piece you and your school have been wanting, needing, and missing. This weekend I was fortunate to have a guided tour of this new curriculum from two of the international-teaching world’s great designers: Kevin Bartlett and Simon Gillespie in Miami at a 2-day Principal’s Training Center workshop. It was the first-ever training offered around the CGC. Forty-seven of us gathered to learn, question, and consider next steps.

To begin at the end of my personal story, I’m in. Not only does this curriculum framework make sense from a what’s-good-for-kids standpoint, it also presents those of us who will be using it with an elegant and simply designed format that provides a comprehensive but flexible frame from which we can build and grow learning and learners in our schools.

Quite simply, the Common Ground Collaborative gets at everything that matters, and is brave enough to leave out what doesn’t. (Which surprisingly makes it manageable, adaptable, and relevant.) Recognizing how people learn- adults too- and what people need to learn, the CGC will enable users the opportunity to provide their schools with expertly written modules and units from leading authorities in the field, allowing everyone to focus on the teaching and learning and not the curriculum writing itself. While for many this will be a sigh of relief and a recognition that teacher-written curriculum is often not the best use of teacher time and talent; others will want the professional opportunity to design for their particular context. Which is perfectly fine and doable within the flexible CGC framework.

As a parent and an educator, I’m often struggling with defining what it is my child and the children I teach need to learn in this, the 21st Century. Independently, I’ve been thinking about the need for schools to transform into places where we focus less on the facts, figures and content and more on learning to learn or even on learning to learn with others in collaborative, people-supportive ways. If I can outsource most of the learning now to Khan Academy or the like then maybe my time at school should be more focused on building the social-emotional and cooperative skills in my students.

Well guess what? The CGC provides for that too. The most important difference and ultimately one of the greatest strengths of this curriculum is the emphasis placed on viewing teaching and learning through the lens of eight ‘Human Commonalities’. These are the bedrocks of this practice model and what makes it relevant and futuristic all at the same time. These commonalities are built-out through the conceptual standards in the curriculum, providing a place where students learn while questioning and developing their understanding. It is, to me, a map for teaching how to be human. It is also quite possibly the only thing that matters when you think about our common human problems and needs.

But don’t fret. They aren’t throwing the basics out with the bathwater. The Common Ground Collaborative weaves into the design frame a strand where students develop the competency skills necessary to be a literate person. These skills are taught, measured and highlighted through the competency standards in the CGC “DNA”. The difference though is they are presented as one piece of this complex yet simplistic frame and not as the only piece. Students will be taught explicitly how to become automatic at those things that require automaticity. They will do so through study models and exemplars, which they in turn will practice at emulating.

As a final strand, and one which I am happy to see represented, is a focus on character learning (values and dispositions) within the CGC that ensures there is a roadmap both for teaching and for learning those true and consistently important transfer skills of behavior and civility. This emphasis is part of what will ensure students have the capacity to truly learn and grow while living inside this curriculum. By teaching and then providing time and authentic reasons for students to reflect, consider, and develop a growth mindset, which we all know is necessary in our new age of education, the CGC will imbed opportunities for this type of learning through the character standards within each module.

The Common Ground Collaborative is a small-bite, highly flavorful dish of newness and yet it just seems so familiar and so right.

The process has just started, but the possibilities are huge. Over the next year the CGC team will be discussing this new curriculum and offering other workshops at regional international-school conferences around the world. This weekend, the Common Ground Collaborative tossed a stone in the water. If you get the chance, jump in and try this on.

Come ride one of the waves with us.

Becoming a Teaching Principal

One of the best things about teaching at schools overseas is the opportunity to connect with consultants when they are in the region. Whether at conferences, or weekend workshops, we have many of the best-known thinkers in the area of education coming to and near our schools to help us all improve. Once abroad, those super-stars of the education world are just like us, navigating the visa line in Muscat, or trying to bargain in Nepal. It is a unique pleasure to have the chance to be with a guru: on a plane, in a taxi, or even in a classroom at one of our schools.

Last weekend, we hosted Matt Glover, early-childhood writing specialist, author, teacher and leader, at our school. Matt was moving through several schools in the region on his way to a NESA-sponsored weekend workshop in Muscat, Oman. We had one day for our Kindergarten and Grade 1 teachers to work with Matt. He presented for a few hours, took our specific school-related questions to heart; then demonstrated some teaching moves in our classrooms, followed up by an afternoon working with teachers. Although I learned a great deal about writing and early-childhood best practices from Matt, (more on that here) what really stuck with me was the fact that he was a former principal who made it a point to teach too.

Eureka! That’s what I want to be.

I know high school and middle school principals- and I’ve heard of a few Heads of School- who teach a class. This allows them to stay connected to the kids and to the teachers through their “on the ground” work. I’ve always been impressed by the added workload and admired the desire to maintain that connection. However, what I’ve not seen is an elementary school principal who consistently teaches. Mainly because it isn’t easy to break the ES day into “classes.” (Nor is it necessarily good for younger children to have multiple leaders in the room, as it can confuse structure and routine.) So, how did Matt Glover do it? How can I be a teaching-principal too?

Well, as a principal of a large (800+) early childhood school in Ohio, Matt spent years teaching in classrooms to improve both his own understanding of how best to reach young writers, as well as how to support and lead his teachers as they took on the work. He knew it would be easier to bring along his whole school if he was a leader who was also trying to do the work he was asking his colleagues to embrace. Matt wasn’t acting as the teacher of an isolated class of children; he was the teacher of the whole school. He maintained his own learning stance, moving through the “how can we do this better” phase right alongside his teachers and the students.

The result is evident when Matt presents. He isn’t the sage on the stage, but rather someone who has built up his own repertoire of skills- over time, and with practice. Practice inside the classroom with real kids, practice doing the instructional work as much as getting it down on paper, and practice analyzing student writing to understand where to go with a particular child as well as the whole student body.

Last week Matt Glover taught me how to be a better writing teacher. He also helped me realize that the best way for me to be a leader is to lead from the work inside the classrooms.

If I can practice like Matt, my leadership might just be meaningful too.