Re-thinking 6th Grade Computer Science

I recently finished my fourth time through this class. I thought it would be nice to reflect on what has changed, so I looked back to my post immediately after my first class had finished. First, here’s what hasn’t changed. It’s still a 6 week unit, with two classes every day. The kids are still great, and I still have great classroom teachers to lean on. They still respond best to lessons that have a physical component, and are wildly enthusiastic about a great number of the topics I cover. Finally, I’m still making my own curriculum from scratch (although now I do have a lot more resources to draw from.)

So what’s different? Well, first of all, there are a LOT more really good resources out there. While I haven’t found a single program that covers everything I want to cover in the time I’ve got to work with, there are an abundance of resources I am pulling ideas from now. For example, has gone beyond coding to add a library of excellent videos on computer science. I used a lot of these this year! Also, the British have recently revamped their entire national computing curriculum, and they have some great lessons available to the rest of us. It seems like everywhere I look, now, great CS resources are being added. This is a huge departure from the heavy emphasis on coding and applications skills I saw five years ago.

Another thing that’s changed is the amount of emphasis on security. It may be because of my own increase in security-mindedness, or just because of the interest the students take, but we spend more time each year talking about security, frauds, and hacking. I do think that’s fully justified, considering the increasing threats and privacy issues we face on a daily basis. But the kids can’t get enough. Hardly a day went by after I introduced a James Veitch video that I wasn’t asked if we could watch more. And I was really amazed at how many students told stories of their parents or grandparents falling victim to a scammer. I’m fairly confident that my students will not fall for easy scams down the road, at any rate.

Likewise, I’ve given increasing attention to copyright. When I first introduced this into the curriculum, I thought I’d just get through it quickly, because the kids needed to be aware. But we’ve had such great discussions about it that I’ve been devoting a lot more time to the issue.

I have started introducing coding into my class. I give it a couple weeks near the end, and I do get some more time in the winter to code with them. Every year I’ve done this, I’ve added a bit more structure to it, and every year I get better results. I’m still looking for the winning formula, though, to balance having everyone on the same page and making sure everyone is challenged. I’ve started mostly on’s Express course, with advanced students doing Scratch. And each year I’ve had a couple students move on to Khan Academy’s JavaScript unit.

So here’s what I’m covering as it stands.

Boot Camp
Classroom proceedures, documents, printing, logging in, good passwords, search, basic troubleshooting
Digital Citizenship
Dangers online, creating a positive digital footprint, scams, being a good citizen
History of computing, parts of a computer
How computers communicate, how the Internet works
Binary numbers, encoding text and images, copyright, cryptography
Programming and Computational Thinking
Using, Scratch, Khan Academy
Other common topics
Presentation software, 3D design, “hacking”