George Lucas Educational Foundation

All Kids Can Code: 4 Factors for Success

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Student Working at a Computer

Recently, all of the 9 schools in the Avondale Elementary School District have jumped into the 21st Century and replaced their outdated technology classes with year-round coding courses required for all students.

The change happened on the first day of school in 2014. Students walked into their computer labs that day without knowing that their special area technology class would never be the same. They came to learn that we replaced their old lessons with coding curriculum. The students grew ecstatic at the prospect of creating, designing, making, and exploring with tools they had never used before. As educators, we tried to remove all boundaries and create an unlimited learning environment. One 6th grade student proudly stated that “with code I could create games and programs to cure cancer.”

As the year progressed, some students became disillusioned as they realized that coding is hard work. Our educators encouraged and pushed their pupils like coaches on the sideline during a playoff game. The children learned true grit and gained critical thinking skills. At the end of the school year, a 4th grade student decided that, “I would like to keep on coding because it can help you a lot in your lifetime. It can help me in collage [sic].” Statements like these are even more profound when one considers our demographics. All schools in the district are Title 1 with an average of 86% free and reduced lunch.

After reflecting on the last year of teaching all 5,500 students the basics of computer programming, there are four keys factors that can be attributed to our success.

Key Factors for Success

1. Agile Teachers

Much of our ability to gain traction in the beginning of the year was due to the willingness and ability for our teachers to immediately start with a completely new curriculum. Normally, school districts take months to prepare and rollout new ELA, Science, or Math curriculum adoptions. Rarely do schools start teaching an entirely new subject area. As we began teaching computer programming we felt like we were flying the plane while building it. Despite this, however, the Coding classes were up and running within the first few weeks of the start of school. The Coding teachers spent the rest of the year actively growing their professional skills and content knowledge. Teachers worked alongside students on and Khan Academy lessons to learn the basic principles of computer programming. When teachers lacked the knowledge to answer student questions, they asked the students to figure it out, then come back and teach them. The Coding teachers of the Avondale Elementary School District did a phenomenal job of learning and teaching a curriculum and subject matter that was new to them.

2. Community Involvement

When we started our coding classes, we realized that many people still thought of programmers as boy nerds who wore thick glasses and sat alone in dark rooms because they lack social skills. We knew that for our initiative to be success, we had to show the public that anyone can learn how to code. Therefore, we launched a number of projects to change the zeitgeist. We started by talking about the merits of learning computer programming at every meeting we could. This included presenting to the District’s Governing Board. A major way we involved the community was by hosting an 'Hour of Code' during Computer Science Week. During the week, all AESD staff members (from cafeteria workers to administrators) were challenged to complete an hour of coding activity provided by or other affiliates. By the end of the week, 66% of all AESD employees completed the goal. Many employees actually spent multiple hours coding and thoroughly enjoyed the time they spent experiencing our students’ curriculum. We also hosted a community event where we invited parents and leaders to learn from our students how to write their first program. Hundreds of people, including our city’s Mayor, attended and the event was a huge success.

3. Free and Easily Accessible Curriculum

Another key to our success was the fact that we obtained all of our coding curriculum for free. The Coding teachers also received free professional development training from a affiliate. The free curriculum and resources we used were from, Khan Academy, and Scratch. These non-profit and educational organizations made it possible for us to lower the barrier to entry and immediately implement a complete change in curriculum without the red tape budgets often present. Despite the fact that these resources are free, the quality is extremely high. has video tutorials featuring well known programmers like Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerberg, and Susan Wojcicki. This does not mean that we will not continue to search out the best resources for our students. Our goal as we move forward is to continue to provide our students the best chance for successfully learning computer programming.

The digital curriculum also allowed students to work at their own pace. As part of our goal to create a learning environment where students are unlimited in what they can accomplish, we realized that we needed to adjust the role of the teacher. In our coding classrooms, differentiation is king and teachers are facilitators. Our educators very rarely conduct whole group instruction. Rather, they focus on pulling small groups together and encouraging peer collaboration. Since students set their own pace, whether it is August or May when a student finishes Course 2 on, they immediately begin Course 3. When students set a solid foundation of computational thinking and finish the courses, they move on to Khan Academy. Although we have not had any students reach this point yet, after learning an introduction to JavaScript on Khan Academy they will get to choose what they learn next. When students reach this point, their learning becomes truly unlimited. Students could choose to make an Android app with MIT App Inventor, learn Ruby with Codecademy, or code their own game on Khan Academy. We have seen outstanding student projects this past year and expect to see even greater creations in the years to come.

4. Weekly Professional Development

The last major contributing factor to our success was the amount of professional development offered to our Coding educators. The educators attended a weekly PD meeting on Wednesday afternoons. Each meeting was 70 minutes long. Teachers were taught strategies to improve their instruction, classroom culture, student strategies, assessments, and more. Teachers also gathered every other week for a District Content Collaboration immediately following the Cluster meeting. This hour was spent collaborating on projects, strengthening content knowledge, and working through glitches. The Coding teachers never left when the meeting was adjourned, they always stayed for hours to continue their learning and strengthen each other. It was also valuable to have a position dedicated to mentoring and guiding this special group of teachers. The Technology Teacher on Special Assignment used previous experience in teaching coding to primary-aged students and a strong content knowledge to augment the classroom skills possessed by the Coding teachers. Having weekly professional development and a guide helped the Coding teachers continue progressing throughout the year.

Looking Forward

Our mission is to make the Avondale Elementary School District the preferred destination for the students of our community by providing the outstanding educational opportunity of learning computer programming in all grade levels. We expect our students to be more prepared for college and their careers because of our coding classes. Our intentions were not to churn out a generation of future programmers, but to enrich our students’ lives with 21st Century skills.

Despite our intentions, a surprisingly high percentage of students responded in a survey that they would like to keep coding when they grow up (53% Yes, 39% No, 8% Maybe). Many students realized that they would want these skills for their job even if they are not planning on becoming a computer engineer. For example, one of our 7th grade students responded to the question with a typical middle school tone, “I want to be an astrophysicist on a rover team. So, ya.” While another 6th grade student excitedly responded that “I would like to use coding for CAD in the fashion industry and have it as apart of my skills in job history.” This 7th grade student recognized how the course is great training for their future, “I would like to keep coding when I grow up because it'll help me concentrate and it can help me in my life.” There were also students who responded that they want to become computer programmers. This 7th grade student responded, “One of the things I'm thinking of doing when I grow up is game development, and as you probably know, coding is an important part of that.”

It is abundantly clear to the students, parents, and educators, of the Avondale Elementary School District that the initiative to teach all students computer programming has launched with great success. There is no doubt about the future success of this program.


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Dan Callahan's picture
Dan Callahan
Professional Learning Specialist, Edcamper, Graduate Professor

Hi Grant,
Just wondering, how has the change been felt elsewhere in the school community. You talk at the beginning about the other things that typically happen and that kids learned in technology classes. Where and when do they learn about those things now? How do the other teachers feel about this change in the curriculum, and do they feel greatly affected by it?

Grant Smith's picture
Grant Smith
Technology Coordinator: champion of All Kids Code initiative and helping to optimize EdTech as we reach 1:1; authorized Google Education Trainer

Hi Dan,
Our district is in the process of going 1:1 with many devices in student hands already. Last year we realized that as more devices went out, the need for the computer lab to type papers or create slideshows would collapse. We also read our state's educational technology standards more carefully and saw that they were actually meant to be implemented in every classroom and not as a stand alone class:

"The Educational Technology Standard committee, in revising the technology standards developed in 1998, has recognized this shift from technology being a supplemental topic, taught only in the computer lab, to technology supporting all learning. Keeping this shift in mind, the standard and the accompanying performance objectives have been written with the intention that they be taught within the content standards and they should not be considered as isolated standards to be taught in a vacuum. " (2009 Arizona Educational Technology Standards)

We concluded that what has been taught in technology class would become integrated into every class. Therefore, instead of letting the technology special area class die or become boringly redundant for our students, we decided to teach an in demand 21st Century skill.

As far as how the other teachers feel about the change. I know many teachers that are thrilled about the coding curriculum. However, I don't think they feel greatly affected by it. Part of our plans for next year is to integrate other subject areas into our classes. For example, if a class is studying the solar system, maybe the students' projects can incorporate astronomy into their projects.

Dan Callahan's picture
Dan Callahan
Professional Learning Specialist, Edcamper, Graduate Professor

Thanks for responding, Grant!

Yeah, I think that the shift towards more devices everywhere makes the bread and butter topics of technology class less relevant since it's more likely to show up and be used in the classroom.

I look forward to hearing more about how you plan the integration in future years. The trickiest part is to make the learning in the technology and the content areas complementary, as opposed to treating one as a simple addon.

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