Computer Science Curriculum – Frequently Asked Questions
Who is STEM Minds
STEM Minds is a BCorp certified, mission-driven social enterprise that offers STEM courses for Grades K-12. Our versatile programs are designed by certified teachers and technical professionals using the latest technology for a world-class education.
STEM Minds was founded in 2016 and has been working with public schools, teachers and students to bring STEM education to the forefront. STEM Minds offers a wide range of courses for Grades K-12. Our versatile programs are designed by certified teachers and technical professionals using the latest technology for a world-class education. At STEM Minds, every student is given a safe space to voice their perspective and springboard new ideas. We instill self-esteem and open student’s minds to new possibilities.
What Does STEM Minds Offer?
The STEM Minds Computer Science Curriculum (SMCS) breaks down barriers, empowering the next generation of future-ready kids.
SMCS Curriculum is based on the learning standards established by the Computer Science Teachers Association (CSTA). The curriculum is an effective, engaging, inclusive, and easily deployed option for schools that seek to establish and build their computer science curricula without investing in expensive hardware or licensing multiple software programs.
Not only does the SMCS curriculum align to CSTA standards, it offers educators professional development options that lead to valuable endorsements and offer educators the chance to network in ways that will foster the development of a thriving community of computer science teachers.
The SMCS curriculum is designed so that students understand, communicate, and adapt to a digital world as it impacts their personal life, society, and the business, and financial world. Since Computer Science is such a broad science, our curriculum is designed to introduce students to the foundational concepts of creative design in the early years and expand their technical knowledge into this rapidly growing field as they matriculate through all grade bands. In line with CSTA and supporting ISTE standards, our curriculum:
- Empowers student voice
- Extends computational thinking
- Engages students through hands-on, technology-enhanced, project-based learning
- Ensures that learning is student centered
The curriculum covers a breadth of skills from block programming at the earliest grades to emerging technologies such as blockchain and cryptography.
SMCS uses an online learning platform that is compatible with any existing learning management system (LMS) a district may use, or is deployable free of set-up charge on our LMS.
The learning modules that form the curriculum include full-length video lessons, game-based learning simulators, standards-driven assessments, and more, helping all students build their confidence and form a solid foundation for success in the 21st century.
SMCS features include:
- Custom-built STEMulators (courses and emulators built for hands-on learning)
- Full mapping to CSTA Standards, K-12 Computer Science Framework, Common Core Standards, and more
- Full length video lessons and visuals to engage and support student learning.
- Badges and micro credentials that highlight and emphasize student achievements.
- Quizzes, assignments and discussion posts that enhance learning and assess student progress on course material.
- ePortfolios for each student that showcases and keeps record of each assignment.
- Easy accessibility to students on a variety of devices such as desktops, tablets, and Chromebook.
STEM Minds computer science courses have been successfully introduced and expanded in classrooms and other educational settings since 2016. The SMCS Curriculum for K-12 was developed by seasoned teachers and computer science experts dedicated to bringing engaging and effective learning experience to educators and students.
Why Choose the STEM Minds Computer Science Curriculum?
The SMCS Curriculum satisfies all of the requirements of the CSTA standards on top of providing opportunities for cross-curricular integration. In addition, the SMCS:
Introduces career paths. The SMCS Curriculum is firmly grounded in the need to open students’ eyes to the professional opportunities available to them through education in computer science and technology. Our curriculum has the benefit of being designed through collaboration between classroom educators and successful computer science professionals, allowing us to bring both pedagogy and practical career preparation into alignment.
Provides consistency across grade levels. By offering the full SMCS Curriculum set, for grades K-5, grades 6-8, and grades 9-12, schools are able to present a consistent set of computer science learning tool across all grades, which allows students and educators to continue to deepen and expand their knowledge using a familiar interface and platform.
Offers continuous expansion and refinement. The SMCS Curriculum satisfies the CSTA standards completely, but STEM Minds can do more. As K-12 Computer Science standards evolve in the coming years, we can continue to develop the SMCS Curriculum to include broader and more advanced topics.
Supports computational thinking. Computer science courses must have computational thinking skills, as defined by the CSTA, embedded. SMCS address these key CSTA concepts:
- Algorithms and Programming
- Computing Systems
- Data Analysis
- Impacts of Computing
- Networks and the Internet
Standards alignment. Our content is fully aligned with:
- CSTA standards
- K12 Computer Science Framework standards
- Common Core Standards
- Ontario and British Columbia provincial standards
- And more!
What is the Length of Curriculum and Model of Delivery?
The SMCS Curriculum is modular and adaptable to various learning platforms including face to face, blended, or virtually with teacher support. Modules are designed for one 9-week grading period. Multiple modules can be combined to create a semester-long or year-long course.
To support classroom integration, our courses are developed by certified teachers and STEM experts, with a direct connection to a range of state and international standards in computer science, STEM fields, as well as cross curricular connections in areas including art and language.
The SMCS Curriculum is presented on an online platform and can be used in a traditional classroom setting, in a hybrid model, or virtually. The SMCS Curriculum is designed to be offered by classroom teachers during the normal school day. Some of the most popular formats for our courses include:
- Self-Directed Learning – Students work through course content at their own pace. This is well-suited to both synchronous and asynchronous virtual/remote learning environments
- Online Learning – Students work through course content with some direct guidance from their teacher in a virtual setting. This is well-suited to both synchronous and asynchronous virtual/remote learning environments
- Blended Learning – Teachers use course content to support classroom instruction, whether as part of an in-person, virtual, or hybrid model. In this model, some course content is completed live while other course content may be completed asynchronously
How Does the Content Integrate Across the Curriculum?
The SMCS Curriculum was developed by certified teachers and computer science experts, with a direct connection to a range of state and international standards in computer science, STEM fields, as well as cross curricular connections in areas including art and language. It can be integrated across grades and subjects, or introduced as a stand-alone offering. It is based on the STEM Minds family of course modules, which, like SMCS, can be stand-alone or integrated.
For example, the STEM Minds “Video Game Design with MakeCode Arcade” course includes the option to:
- Use the course as stand-alone content. In this case, students will primarily focus on developing a deeper understanding of the fundamentals of coding and computer science through the creation of playable video games.
- Integrate the course across the curriculum. In this case, students will focus on developing a deeper understanding of the fundamentals of coding and computer science through the creation of playable video games, but may also make connections including:
- Language and Literacy through the development of more formal storylines for their games, dialogue for characters, etc.
- Math with a potential for focus on coordinate systems, measurement, basic operations, etc.
- Social Studies/History through the development of relevant themes for their games
All courses in the curriculum include a section called the “Global Goals Challenges”, where students are asked to apply the skills they have built throughout the course to design a project or product that attempts to address one of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals.
For example, students may be asked to create a video game that is intended to teach players about the importance of protecting the environment or to advocate for gender equality.
The inclusion of these project prompts provides students with the opportunity to extend their learning beyond the classroom and provides teachers with authentic learning opportunities to integrate across the curriculum and help students find real-world relevance in their learning.
The SMCS Curriculum follows the same approach, and students with mastery pathways to advance their learning and demonstrate mastery of key concepts. We also use a gamified microcredentialing framework to both motivate students as well as track and reward their progress.
How Does the Curriculum Engage Diverse Learners?
All youth belong in the world of STEM. STEM learning must be approachable and inclusive of gender, race, regional/cultural context, and learning styles. Learning should be meaningful and applicable for a wide range of learners.
The STEM Minds computer science curriculum is therefore inclusive and accessible for all youth.
As part of our pedagogical approach, we embrace the “learner variability” model, as outlined by Barbara Pape in “Learn Variability is the Rule, Not the Exception,” which recognizes that,
“all students differ, and learning sciences research shows that these differences matter for learning […] learner variability embraces both students who struggle and those who thrive […] because of the natural variability found in each person, in school and beyond.”
STEM Minds recognizes that strong inequity exists both in access to STEM education and in representation within the world of STEM.
We want to change this. As such, our programs are built and constantly reviewed in order to promote inclusivity and accessibility by:
- Adhering to the principles of culturally responsive teaching. These principles include: Building strong relationships with and among students; using the background knowledge and interests of students to design engaging lessons; giving students choice and ownership in their learning; validating student progress and success.
- Engaging all genders. There continues to be a wide disparity in gender representation in the world of STEM. STEM Minds is a woman-owned and operated businesses, and we take personally the mission of ensuring that STEM education engages students of all genders.
- Ensuring cultural inclusivity through our programs. By taking a project-based learning approach and with the intentional inclusion of culturally agnostic projects, we offer students the freedom to choose how they engage with their learning and therefore encourage students to use their skills to solve personal and community-based problems. As a result, students are able to make meaningful connections between what they learn and their own lives and find themselves represented in their learning.
- Understanding that every child is unique and has the capacity to learn. We work collaboratively with community partners and leaders with expertise in areas such as learning disabilities, physical disabilities, gender and racial representation, and more to ensure that our programs and courses are addressing the needs of all students.
- Striving for the highest levels of accessibility. We have worked in partnership with a range of experts in order to make our courses accessible to individuals with physical and learning disabilities and have a stringent review process to ensure that our courses meet accessibility standards.
Reflecting our commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion in building our development teams. As part of STEM Minds commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion, we have spent the past year tailoring our recruitment and training efforts so that we can provide development teams that bring together diverse voices, experiences, and perspectives. Education for diverse learners should derive from educators with diverse backgrounds.
How Does the Curriculum Connect to the World of Work?
It is STEM Minds’ goal to ensure that the youth of today are prepared to thrive in the technology-intensive workplace of today and tomorrow. We believe that a solid background in computer science and technology will be a foundation of successful careers in all industries, and that computer science competence is and will continue to be necessary for adults to practice good citizenship at the local, state, national, and global levels.
STEM Minds courses are therefore designed to support students in building the following ways:
- Fearless Learning: In order to thrive in the fourth industrial revolution and beyond, it is crucial that all individuals become lifelong learners. Furthermore, we must embrace the idea that we learn through making mistakes. STEM learning should inspire students to approach problems with a sense of curiosity and without fear of “failure.”
- Critical Thinking: Through hands-on experiences, students in STEM Minds computer science courses develop new ways of understanding the role of technology, what it is capable of, and the impact on our personal lives and societies. Youth will develop critical judgment skills as they relate to information, digital technology, and the problem-solving process.
- Creative Problem Solving: There is more than one way to solve a problem. Youth will think outside the box to develop inventive and flexible problem-solving strategies. Youth will develop an understanding of the role technology plays in supporting creative problem-solving. With a wide range of learning experiences, students will make connections between concepts and issues to get the full picture.
- Collaboration: The best way to approach learning and solving problems is through collaboration. Youth will develop the skills they need to effectively communicate and collaborate with peers and other individuals, to actively seek and incorporate feedback, and to seek and share learning with others.
- Communication: Youth will understand the power of communication in forging partnerships, building skills, and fostering creative positive change in their communities. Students will understand how to effectively and respectfully communicate in a wide range of circumstances so they can solve problems, share ideas with diverse audiences, and collaborate effectively.
- Digital Citizenship: Youth will understand the connection between the online and “real world” and be able to comport themselves with dignity and respect in both. Youth will learn the roles that technology can play in both helping and harming individuals and communities and will commit themselves to using technology as a way to improve the world around them.
We believe that authentic learning experiences are key to student achievement and ensuring that students understand how the skills they are building can shape the world around them. We support connections to the world of work through:
- Content specifically designed to support students in making connections to potential careers.
- The inclusion of our “Global Goals” challenges that ask students to apply their learning to solve real-world problems
- An overall project-based learning approach with industry standard tools so that students get hands-on experience with the tools used by professionals in a context that deepens their understanding and personal connection to their learning
Are There Prerequisites Necessary for Students to Participate?
The SMCS Curriculum supports students of all skill levels and interests. The curriculum takes a project-based learning approach that provides students with the flexibility to apply their skills and demonstrate their learning in a way that aligns with their unique learning profile.
As a result, no prerequisites are necessary, although some courses may be more inherently challenging than others (e.g. block-based code vs text-based code). We provide suggestions as to which courses are the best fit for beginners, for students with some experience, etc.
What Are the Benefits to Students and Educators in Terms of Content, Skills Growth, Attitudes, and Intentions?
Our 2020 survey data indicates that students and teachers alike rate their experience in our programs and workshops as overwhelmingly positive.
Fifty-six percent of students said that they would be more likely to consider exploring a career in STEM after participating in our programs and more than 50% said that they had discovered a new interest or passion.
Nine out of ten teachers felt more confident with teaching computer science and 100% said the usefulness of our training, resources, and programs were “useful or extremely useful”.
Your can read our user case studies in our blog section.
In addition, the SMCS provides the following benefits:
- Clear Learning Outcomes. Students learn best when they have learning goals and success criteria to guide them. The SMCS Curriculum includes clear learning outcomes through the communication of “learning goals” in each lesson.
- Project-Based Learning & Hands-On Learning. The SMCS Curriculum is heavily focused on students getting hands-on experience with the skills and tools being explored through the use of projects and challenges.
- Core Skills and Student Voice. Students want to do more than just follow along with a tutorial. The SMCS Curriculum takes the approach of equipping students with the core skills they need for success and asking them to apply those skills through hands-on projects to create their own unique approach to learning. As such, students are given flexible projects through which to apply their skills and are given opportunities to extend their learning through program elements such as the “Global Goals Challenges.”
- Real World Connections and Jobs of the Future. The SMCS Curriculum makes meaningful connections to career opportunities so students are inspired for what the future may hold. In this way, SMCS supports the goals of HF 2629 and the Future Read Iowa initiative. Students apply their skills to projects with real world connections in order to build their critical thinking and creative problem-solving skills.
- Mastery Pathways. Through the full SMCS Curriculum, students have the opportunity to explore mastery pathways to advance their skills and make authentic connections between topics. In order to support student learning, we have developed a detailed microcredential framework to provide certification of student learning and guide students in understanding the connections between what they learn. See Section 8B for more details.
What Professional Development and Training is Offered?
The SMCS Curriculum includes standards-aligned professional learning that can be delivered in person, online, or in hybrid format.
To date, STEM Minds has successfully worked with more than 3800 teachers to provide high-quality, curriculum connected, hands-on professional development opportunities on computer science topics.
Our professional development programs are consistently well-received by the teachers we work with (average rating of 4.75/5 stars based on post-training surveys) and more than 9 out of 10 teachers we have worked with reported that they feel more confident to teach computer science after just 1.5 hours of our professional development workshops.
While we always encourage professional learning in order to support teachers, the SMCS Curriculum was created to be fully accessible to non-STEM/Computer Science teachers.
Professional learning is therefore optional based on individual teacher comfort level with the topic and/or district needs. We have a bank of past webinars recorded and available for teachers to work through at their own pace, if needed.
Our professional development programs are developed by experienced instructional designers, educators, and SMEs with industry Computer Science experience. Our PD team realizes the skills and dispositions needed in order to effectively deliver quality CS instruction. Our professional development provides novice and experienced teachers with thorough content knowledge and skills needed to be successful in a culturally responsive CS classroom.
Using CSTA standards for teachers as our foundational design framework, the SMCS PD provides learning progressions from such standards to deliver flexible pathways through which teachers can confidently teach Computer Science. SMCS PD includes a separate module on inclusive pedagogy, a student-centered approach to teaching CS focusing on creating an inviting and engaging learning environment to all students with varied backgrounds, learning styles, cognitive and physical abilities in the classroom. We believe that by focusing on such an important aspect of the learning environment, teachers are able to grow their programs and include students who are furthest from CS opportunities.
We are able to offer as many professional development training sessions as required in a range of formats, including through live virtual workshops and pre-recorded webinars for whatever duration is requested (e.g. half day, full day, multi day, etc). STEM Minds has partnered directly with schools/districts as well as with organizations including Microsoft and FIRST Robotics to bring professional development opportunities to thousands of teachers over the last 5 years.
We offer a range of professional learning opportunities delivered by subject matter experts that are directly curriculum connected, based on the realities of the classroom, and intended to support teachers in building both their technical/content knowledge and their confidence.
SMCS Curriculum professional development will come with an optional credential from the microcredentialing organization Digital Promise, so that teachers can receive official recognition for their learning and development. Currently, all teachers receive a certificate of completion after participating in any of our workshops.
How can this curriculum be used in Maker Spaces?
Since our launch in 2016, STEM Minds has been a staunch advocate for makerspaces and has provided support, curriculum, professional development, and training to thousands of teachers across the globe.
Supporting makerspaces aligns with our commitment to empowering the next generation of global leaders and innovators. Through the inquiry-based learning and hands-on approach that is inherent within makerspaces, students develop the 21st century skills they need to be successful now and in the future.
STEAM Hub in Makerspaces
The maker movement and makerspaces in general is all about student centered learning and exploration. However, we recognize that designing and implementing makerspaces can be challenging.
STEAM Hub helps address several barriers to the successful implementation of makerspaces:
- Resources for teachers. While makerspaces are student-centered and inquiry-driven, there will be many times that students require assistance that is beyond the scope of teacher’s current skills. STEAM Hub’s wide range of courses means that teachers have an enormous bank of resources to help them provide students with meaningful learning experiences.
- Guidance for students. In makerspaces, students are encouraged to think big and apply a wide range of skills to express their creativity. Based on student’s interests and inquiry needs, STEAM Hub gives them access to a range of more than 30+ courses to support them with the skills and knowledge they need to bring their ideas to life.
- Curriculum connections. While makerspaces inspire students to explore beyond the curriculum, there are many powerful ways for students to engage with makerspaces in curriculum-connected ways. STEAM Hub courses are fully mapped to the CSTA standards, K12 Computer Science Framework standards, Common Core standards, Ontario and British Columbia provincial standards, and more. This makes it easy for teachers to assess and evaluate student learning in connection to curriculum standards while still honouring the inquiry-driven and student centered nature of makerspaces.
- Global focus. All STEAM Hub courses include a section called the “Global Goals Challenges”, where students are asked to apply the skills they have built throughout the course to design a project or product that attempts to address one of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals.
The inclusion of these project prompts provides students with the opportunity to extend their learning beyond the walls of the school to find real-world relevance in their learning.