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What is a meaningful CS unit?

Every student in New York City will receive at least one meaningful unit of computer science (CS) instruction by 2025, at every grade band: K-2, 3-5, 6-8, and 9-12.

A meaningful computer science unit engages students by:

  • A creative application of computing with connections to each student's interests, such as other academic subjects, or real-world scenarios.
  • A performance task that assesses students on their ability to think through open-ended tasks.
  • Hands-on experience with three CS practices: Analyzing, Prototyping, and Communicating.
  • At least three of five CS concepts; Abstraction, Algorithms, Programming, Data, and Networks.

To help educators understand the criteria and see them in practice, CS4ALL is providing exemplary units. These units were written by educators from different parts of the CS education community, including K-12 CS teachers, CS education academics, and teaching artists and practitioners. Units range in instructional time from 10-25 hours. Units for the lower grades, and those that align with other subject areas tend to be shorter.

Units aligning with other subject areas can help teachers make computer science relevant to students by providing multiple entry points for CS content.These units highlight areas in the published curriculum, or in standards that can help teachers leverage what students have learned in other subject areas (to provide their students with a meaningful CS experience.) The units build on prerequisite content knowledge of other subjects, in order to give students opportunities to make meaningful connections.

Assessment: Performance Tasks

Performance tasks support CS4ALL’s emphasis on creative computing by:

  • Asking students to complete an age appropriate open-ended task that requires the application of knowledge and skills to an authentic prompt or problem.
  • Assessing students on multiple criteria..., and not expecting students to find the "right" answer.

Educators should evaluate student "artifacts" by using multiple criteria that ask students to create a set of objects and tools, or "artifacts" for each CS practice: Analyze, Prototype, and Communicate. These artifacts may incorporate all practices, so educators are encouraged to be thoughtful about what they ask students to do. Furthermore, open-ended tasks look different at different grade levels, so educators will need to find the right mix of scaffolding /workmanship, guidance, and independence that would be appropriate for their students.

Examples of artifacts at different grade levels may include:

Analyze

  • K-5: An illustration of the physical internet.
  • 6-8: A critique of a peer's prototype.
  • 9-12: Written analysis of a government data source

Prototype

  • K-5: A sequence of instructions for a robot to complete a simple maze.
  • 6-8: An interactive story or simulation.
  • 9-12: A script, or short program, that provides recommendations based on student input.

Communication

  • K-5: A verbal explanation of the components of a classroom device, such as a laptop or tablet.
  • 6-8: A website that showcases a prototype and the iterative process.
  • 9-12: A written reflection that discusses the concepts associated with calling a function.

Finally, educators should write performance task criteria for students, and share this criterion early and often with them.

Scope: CS Practices, Concepts, and Perspectives

A meaningful unit as described in the Blueprint represents the minimum instruction required in CS4ALL projects. Schools are expected to teach at least all three CS practices; Analyze, Prototype, and Communicate. In addition, three of five concepts: Abstraction, Algorithms, Programming, Data, and Networks. Each practice and concept have corresponding sub-practices and sub-concepts.

Educators are expected to:

  • Engage students in as many sub-practices of the three practices; Analyze, Prototype, Communicate, as is appropriate for their students' ages and backgrounds.
  • Engage students in at least one sub-concept and in at least three concepts areas: Abstraction, Algorithms, Programming, Data and Network.

Scoping for student age and background

The level of engagement with practices and the choice of sub-concepts can be guided, utilizing the four perspectives in CS education: Explorer, Creator, Innovator and Citizen.

For example, an educator working with students that have no prior experience with CS may scope their unit using the Explorer perspective, which focuses on giving students time to play and gain comfort with CS practices and concepts.

Educators should consider this as the standard for meaningful CS units. As they gain CS content knowledge and experience implementing CS instruction, educators are encouraged to add more concepts and to look at CS educational frameworks with broader scopes such as the K-12 CS framework, or the AP CS Principles framework.