Over the past few months, I've watched the Herculean effort of my K-12 teacher friends as they've moved their classes online.
As a teacher myself, I've been impressed with how quickly they've adapted their lesson plans and teaching styles.
And now – after what has felt like an eternity – summer is finally here. Teachers can finally come up for air.
But a vaccine is still months away. Maybe years. And in the meantime, distance learning will remain the norm for most schools.
Much of K-12 teachers' professional development takes place during the summer. And for most teachers, this year's Summer PD will focus on learning new technology tools.
I believe that every teacher should have access to comprehensive, free continuing education. But not every school district has the resources for this.
Lots of tech companies have "for teachers" sections that provide tutorials for using their particular products and services in the classroom. But we need a more general non-commercial curriculum designed with summer professional development in mind.
I am not a billionaire. I am not even a millionaire. I can't snap my fingers and commission a curriculum from thin air.
I may just be an adult ed teacher who started an education nonprofit. But I am also part of a community. And that community has already published 1,000s of hours of free technology education learning resources.
More than 10 million people use freeCodeCamp.org every month to learn new skills. Including quite a few K-12 teachers.
So maybe we don't need some billionaire to bankroll an all-star team of instructional designers. Maybe we teachers can pull together a summer PD curriculum ourselves.
I, for one, think we can. And here's what I'm thinking:
Phase 1: Discovery – What Are The Underlying Challenges Technology Can Help With?
As I said, I'm an adult ed teacher. I don't know much about teaching kids, or getting things done inside a K-12 school system.
So the first step in this process will be for all us teachers to converge on this Discord chat room. Just click that link and you'll jump right into the chatroom with the rest of us. Here's the link again.
Be sure to say hi and tell us a bit about what subjects and grades you teach, and where you're from. 😃
In this chat room, we'll discuss the challenges we face day-to-day on the ground with teaching during the pandemic, and how we're handling:
- Communicating with parents
- Coordinating with other teachers and administrators
- And all other tasks that fill our days
We're going to hash out all the challenges, right out there in the open.
"Who has a problem with XYZ? OK – I'm glad I'm not the only one. What system do you use for that?"
It should be cathartic.
We're going to build a shared understanding of the inherent challenges of teaching during a global pandemic.
Many of the challenges will have nothing to do with technology. They may be emotional. They may be socio-economic.
We will undoubtedly hit many walls as we consider the availability of devices and internet connectivity, or local regulations like FERPA.
But some of these challenges will be addressable with technology. And those are the challenges we're going to really focus on for phase 2.
Phase 2: Engineering – Which Off-the-Shelf Tools Can We Use To Address These Underlying Challenges?
Developers use all kinds of tools to get things done day-to-day. Some of these tools require more practice and conceptual knowledge than others.
In a perfect world, we would teach each and every K-12 teacher how to code, how to use databases, how to make high-level architectural decisions, and all the math and theory that underpins complex software systems.
If you want to learn all of those things, you can. But it isn't going to happen in one summer. It will take years.
What is NoCode?
NoCode is buzzword for software development tools that don't require a strong knowledge of coding.
NoCode tools have been around for decades. You may remember Microsoft Front Page – the 1990s tool that let you build websites without needing to know HTML or CSS. Or Filemaker Pro, which let you build database applications through a drag-and-drop interface.
You could even consider Google Forms to be a NoCode tool.
There are NoCode tools that help you pipe-together data from other applications. First there was Yahoo Pipes. Then came automation tools like IFTTT and Zapier.
There are also website plugin ecosystems like WordPress, Squarespace, and Wix.
Again – with NoCode, you get much of the power of code, without needing to write code yourself.
NoCode tools don't have the same flexibility as traditional programming languages and libraries. They are best used for prototypes and applications that only a few people will use – not for commercial products. But they are a great fit for teachers who don't have a background in software development.
A little NoCode knowledge can go a long way. And I'm confident that within 60 hours of professional development, most teachers can gain the skills to use these tools to roll their own custom solutions.
Here are some examples of everyday classroom tasks you could automate with NoCode Tools:
- Automatically share classroom activities and calendars with parents through email or Facebook groups.
- Automatically export past classroom sessions to unlisted YouTube videos, then email them to all the students' parents.
- Automatically grade quizzes from Google Forms, send them to a spreadsheet, and email them to parents.
- Automatically email attendance data to school administrators, or export it to a shared spreadsheet.
Phase 3: Production – Designing Video Courses and Practice Projects
Once we have a clear understanding of common challenges K-12 teachers face, and the tools best suited to help them face those challenges, we will start designing courses.
This process can move quickly. We can design course scripts and practice projects collaboratively using GitHub and the freeCodeCamp Forum. Then we can record them and publish them on YouTube. Everything will be free and ad-free.
We have several classroom teachers who can help us with this process.
- Briana Swift is an elementary school music teacher-turned software developer. She works at GitHub. She has recorded dozens of programming and computer science tutorials over the years.
- Beau Carnes was a special education teacher for 5 years before joining freeCodeCamp. He has published dozens of hours worth of online courses on freeCodeCamp's YouTube channel.
- Kris Koishigawa taught elementary school and middle school for 7 years in South Korea. He now works as a software engineer and instructional designer at freeCodeCamp.
They will help lead the effort to get us through phases 1 through 3, so that the #SummerPD curriculum can go live as quickly as possible.
Frequently Asked Questions
You probably have a ton of questions. "Who is this guy again?" "Is he crazy?"
You can tweet your questions to me, and I will keep this section up-to-date with my answers.
Can the freeCodeCamp.org Community Actually Pull This Off and Make it All Free?
Yes. The freeCodeCamp community already has thousands of hours of free (and ad-free) programming courses on YouTube.
When Will #SummerPD Become Available to Teachers?
Based on my research, most school districts in the US seem to conduct Summer PD starting 2 weeks before the school year starts.
Thus, our goal would be to have the full curriculum and all of its courses and practice projects live by mid-August 2020.
Will This Curriculum Count Toward a Master's Degree?
freeCodeCamp is a nonprofit – not a university. If you are a department chair or a provost who has the power to grant credit for this coursework, please reach out to me on Twitter. We are open to partnering with accredited universities on this.
How Can I Get Involved In Designing and Creating These Courses?
You can join our #SummerPD Discord Chat Room. I will be in the chatroom along with a lot of other teachers.
The discovery process starts now. Together, we can figure out which problems #SummerPD should address, and which tools we're going to teach.
With hard work, we can design and implement a free 60-hour curriculum that K-12 teachers around the world can start using in August.