Building a CS FutureNetworking, educational opportunities abound at inaugural K-5 PD extravaganzaby: Damian HopkinsPublished: Aug. 23, 2023 Feature Story Teachers Lisa Ortiz (left), Ma Elvia Soto Juarez (center), and Javier Aguilar (right) study a micro:bit robot during the K-5 Professional Development Extravaganza. Here’s a universally agreed-upon fact: teachers need all the support and resources they can get.This summer, TACC’s Expanding Pathways in Computing (EPIC) team held its inaugural K-5 Professional Development (PD) Extravaganza, a gathering of educators and professional development providers that offered a unique opportunity for teachers to connect. Teachers from across Texas learned new strategies and techniques and deepened their knowledge of computer science (CS) in the K-5 classroom. “There aren’t many professional development opportunities in CS and computational thinking for K-5 educators, and with the new TEKS on the horizon, we wanted to show teachers how to integrate these standards into core curricula.” Sessions at the Extravaganza aligned to the new Technology Applications Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills (TEKS) standards required to be implemented by the start of the 2024-2025 school year.“There aren’t many professional development opportunities in CS and computational thinking for K-5 educators, and with the new TEKS on the horizon, we wanted to show teachers how to integrate these standards into core curricula,” said Judy Lau, EPIC’s CS professional development coordinator and a former teacher. “I’m excited for teachers to learn these vital CS skills and pass them on to the workers of the future.”Forty-five participants attended the Extravaganza. Attendees responded positively to the hands-on, interactive nature of the conference and the introduction of the new TEKS lesson plans.Due to the positive feedback, the WeTeach_CS team is discussing ways to scale up this event in the future. One idea is to host regional collaboratives, where select educators are equipped to train teachers across multiple districts throughout the state. Judy Lau is the professional development coordinator for the EPIC team. Lau is also a former teacher. Pflugerville ISD Technology Integration Specialists Rita Aleman and Hoda Mohamed expressed their gratitude for lessons learned at the Extravaganza.“Hoda and I want to start a Girls Who Code club in our ISD and give young girls a chance to learn about things like coding,” Aleman said. “This conference provided an opportunity to learn ways that other educators are incorporating CS concepts in their classrooms.Added Mohamed: “I’m excited to take the Tech Apps TEKS lessons from the Extravaganza and show Pflugerville teachers how they can integrate these lessons in their classrooms.” “The greatest challenge to providing CS learning opportunities to Texas students is not equipment or broadband but rather a shortage of teachers who have had an opportunity to learn CS themselves." Sean Justice of Texas State University’s College of Fine Arts led a session on teaching Scratch Jr. to students.“As teachers, we feel like we have to know everything about everything, but we don’t,” Justice said. “A teacher admitting this in a classroom setting lets students know that it’s OK for them to ask for help.”EPIC Partnership Coordinator Sheryl Roehl led sessions on computational thinking, cybersecurity, and physical computing. Roehl’s goal was to spark a curiosity in teachers that could be passed on to their students.“I wanted teachers to receive training and resources designed to inspire STEM curiosity in their students,” said Roehl, a former teacher with Victoria ISD. “Teachers are the catalysts to expand students’ perspectives and, in many cases, their career choices.” Pflugerville ISD Technology Integration Specialists Rita Aleman (left) and Hoda Mohamed (right) check out STEM resources. Aleman and Mohamed wish to start a "Girls Who Code" and give young girls a chance to learn STEM skills like coding.” With new K-5 standards set for implementation in the 2024-2025 school year, the WeTeach_CS team saw the K-5 Extravaganza as a perfect opportunity to offer professional development for Texas teachers in integrated computational thinking.“The greatest challenge to providing CS learning opportunities to Texas students is not equipment or broadband but rather a shortage of teachers who have had an opportunity to learn CS themselves,” said EPIC Director Carol Fletcher, also a former teacher. “There’s no substitute for a dedicated and well-prepared teacher to keep kids engaged and on track.”Explore the state of CS education at your school and in your district with the WeTeach_CS Texas CS Education Data Dashboard. The dashboard offers an interactive look at CS enrollment rates, access equity, and more.