Thursday, May 21, 2015

SF schools are developing computer science curriculum for all grade levels

By Laura Dudnick | SF Examiner

Mike Koozmin/The S.F. Examiner
The Digital District plan is a five-year roadmap highlighting how
technology will be woven into the classrooms of public schools.
Students in San Francisco may soon learn computer science starting as early as preschool.

The San Francisco Unified School District is exploring the bold and unprecedented curriculum change as part of its Digital District plan, a five-year roadmap released last year that highlights how technology will be woven into the classrooms of public schools. Computer science education includes coding, computer security and databases — all valuable skills in today’s job market.

The move could make the SFUSD potentially the first district in the U.S. to implement a mandatory computer science curriculum for all pre-kindergarten to 12th-grade students. Currently, there are 28 computer science courses offered at 10 high schools, which reach just 5 percent of The City’s high school students. Two middle schools offer computer science electives, impacting less than 1 percent of all sixth- through eighth-grade students. There are no computer science courses taught in elementary schools.

That means that students are not being exposed to computer science at a young age, potentially triggering an interest that could develop into a lucrative career, district officials said.

“We are not seeing a representative group of students take advantage [of computer science],” said Jim Ryan, executive director of the science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) program for the SFUSD. “They don’t get exposure young enough so it becomes an interest of theirs.”

The new curriculum would introduce about 20 hours of computer science education each school year to students in preschool through fifth grade. An example of computer science lessons for elementary school students would be putting together blocks based on conditional statements, as if to mirror code-writing on a computer.

The model for that age group would likely involve one computer science specialist for every two schools. The teacher would spend about an hour a week in each classroom of one school for one semester, then switch to another school for another semester.


Tuesday, May 12, 2015

S.F. schools’ iPad handout pivots from L.A.’s $1.3 billion scandal

By Jill Tucker | SF Chronicle

Photo: Carlos Avila Gonzalez, The Chronicle
Eric Mendez, right, and his son, Eric, 7, use the iPad given to them by
the San Francisco Unified School District to do his studying at home
in San Lorenzo, Calif., on Thursday, May 7, 2015. iPads were given to
first graders in four San Francisco schools through a donation made
by Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg.
From 350 miles north, San Francisco school officials watched the $1.3 billion iPad program in Los Angeles schools implode amid allegations of illegal spending, improper bidding on contracts and software bugs, not to mention students hacking the devices to bypass security blocking social media and other online sites.

Then those same San Francisco district leaders bought a bunch of iPads and started handing them out in schools up here. But they’d learned lessons from Los Angeles.

Instead of loaning kids tablets to take home, San Francisco’s Digital Literacy program is giving them to families for free, loaded with hundreds of books, learn-to-read software and educational games, and with open-ended access to the Internet. After the parents go through a training, the iPads are theirs to keep, no strings attached, and students are then able to access the same books and reading programs at home as they do at school.

And the district is starting small. Instead of blanketing schools with the tablets as L.A. did, San Francisco is starting in five schools and working only with first-grade classrooms and families. So far, there are sets of iPad Mini tablets in each first-grade class at the five schools. And 155 parents who have gone through or are currently enrolled in the training have received iPads.


Monday, May 11, 2015

Forget bake sales — SF schools are crowdfunding

By Jill Tucker | SF Chronicle

Bake sales? So 20th century.

San Francisco schools aren’t organizing cakewalks to raise cash, they’re crowdfunding.
District officials announced a new partnership Friday with Tilt, an online fundraising platform, allowing schools to post technological needs and ask for donations.

Similar sites, like, allow teachers to post classroom needs and ask for donations. But this is the first-ever crowdfunding initiative by a school district, San Francisco Unified officials said.

The site,, already has several schools’ wish lists.

Sunset Elementary School, for example, is seeking $25,000 to boost its supply of iPads and Chromebooks.

Stevenson Elementary wants $28,000 for “one iPad cart containing 30 tablets that will be shared between the third, fourth and fifth grades.”

All the money goes to the schools, save a 1 percent fee to Tilt to maintain the district’s “SparkLearning” site that it houses. The company’s take is usually a couple percentage points higher.

“An investment in education is the best investment we can all make, and this new Tilt SparkLearning platform is making it easier to make that investment,” Mayor Ed Lee said, in a statement.

Lee and district officials have focused efforts on building relationships between the city’s tech sector and schools.