Everywhere around the world, educational authorities are recognizing the need for comprehensive computer science education. Whether to prepare students for STEM careers or simply help people understand everyday technology better, computer science has become a huge requirement in K-12 schooling systems.
The state of Utah is no exception – and in the last few years, it has developed the Utah Computer Science Standards to achieve this goal. With a focus on starting from Kindergarten and working on computer science outcomes all the way through high school, these standards provide essential guidelines for teachers to improve the overall education experience.
In this article, we’ll discuss the Utah Computer Science Standards, explain what exactly these standards cover, and more. We’ll also cover some helpful resources like Zenva Schools that can help you teach using this framework.
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What are the Utah Computer Science Standards?
If you’re a teacher new to Utah – or even just the Utah Computer Science Standards – we’ll first endeavor to discuss a brief overview of how the standards came to be and what they’re trying to do for Utah’s Career and Technical Education pathways.
How the Current Utah Computer Science Standards Came to Be
Like most states in the US, Utah recognized that computer science was becoming more important to include in educational standards. In 2018, the Computer Science Taskforce was created by the Utah State Board of Education to come up with a plan to implement better computer science objectives in public schools.
The goals of this taskforce included:
- Developing goals for all K through 12 grades
- Coming up with a strategy that could be implemented statewide
- Improving the ability of teachers to handle these new requirements
In 2019, the taskforce was further encouraged by the state legislators creating the Computer Science for Utah Grant Program. This grant program was intended to provide funds to implement the Utah Computer Science Education Master Plan, with the ultimate goal of improving computer science outcomes based on the taskforce’s findings.
That same year, the Utah Computer Science K-12 Framework was developed in conjunction with leading educators to form the backbone of the current Utah Computer Science Standards.
What do the Utah Computer Science Standards Aim to Achieve
While the Utah Computer Science Standards are fairly comprehensive, there are a few specific goals worth discussing that help expand on Utah’s vision for the future. Additionally, they can provide insight when deciding whether or not to use platforms like Zenva Schools to incorporate coding into your classroom through pre-made courses.
Begin Computer Science Education as Early as Possible
One of the main goals of the Utah Computer Science Standards is to ensure students start as early as possible in their computer science education. While, of course, no kindergartener is going to be learning topics like Python, there are plenty of other topics young students can start learning. This includes:
- Keyboard skills
- Digital literacy
- Basic coding principles
- Computational thinking
The idea is that starting earlier will provide students with the foundations necessary to understand technology in general and expand skills further in higher grades.
Incorporate Computer Science into All Subjects
The Utah Computer Science Standards have also been crafted to be applicable to different subjects. There are two reasons for this goal.
First, having cross-sectional learning materials helps reinforce many topics. Computer science doesn’t just involve programming, but core skills in problem-solving and critical thinking as well that are important to many facets of life. Thus, having the standards suitable to many different subjects allows reinforcement of these kinds of skills.
Second, in Utah, once students reach high school, they have more freedom to craft their education pathways. Unfortunately, previous years have shown this can mean many students don’t receive any form of computer science education once they reach certain grade levels.
By incorporating these standards into other subjects, though, educators can ensure students don’t miss key learning points they’ll need for the future.
Provide Teacher Professional Development Pipelines for Computer Science
Although student learning is important, another goal of the Utah Computer Science Standards is to simply provide a means for teachers to also learn computer science. In this way, teachers can actually properly prepare to cover the topics at hand.
While this goal is self-explanatory, we wanted to include it, as it is one of the most important facets of Utah’s goals. Utah considers it integral to education that educators are also prepared. With the standards, teachers have the guidelines they need to explore learning resources (such as Zenva Schools, which offers both student and teacher learning for programming).
About the Utah Computer Science Strands
In this next section, we wish to discuss how exactly the Utah Computer Science Standards are organized – as this is important for including them as part of regular classroom learning.
Standards vs. Strands in the Utah Computer Science Standards
The Utah Computer Science Standards are generally broken up in two ways: strands and standards.
“Standards” here are meant to refer to overall learning outcome goals. In other words, they’re what students are meant to gain proficiency in. These are generally very specific to a certain topic, such as below:
Select computing devices that perform a variety of tasks accurately and quickly based on user needs and preferences.Utah Computer Science Standards – K.CS.1
In other curriculum standards, these are often referred to as “content descriptors” or similar terms. It is also worth noting that standards are generally what you’ll want to look for in terms of resources, as they offer guiding principles on evaluating coding courses like the amazing ones offered by Zenva Schools.
On the other end of the spectrum are strands. Strands are meant to organize the standards into areas of learning that represent an overall similar theme. This is not dissimilar to many other curriculum standards you might have seen – and serves as a way to further keep the standards manageable.
Equally so, the strands can also be broken up into two major areas: Core Concepts, which focus on abstract ideas and understanding, and Core Practices, which focus on actually putting computational skills into practical application.
Given that the “strands” are also extremely significant to understand the overall learning goals of the standards involved, below we’ve outlined what these strands are and what they aim to focus on in each learning area.
Core Concepts Strands
The Computing Systems strand is one focused on hardware and software. This entails understanding how these elements deal with digital information and even some aspects of troubleshooting issues related to them.
Networks & the Internet
As the title suggests, the Networks & the Internet strand focus on how computers connect and communicate with each other to exchange information. This area also incorporates elements of cybersecurity as well.
Data and Analysis
Standards in the Data and Analysis strand focus specifically on how we collect, process, represent, and visualize data. It also explores how we use this data to make predictions that affect our everyday lives.
The Computational Thinking strand is focused specifically on problem-solving. Standards in this strand are aimed at demonstrating how to break down and solve problems with sets of ordered instructions (i.e. algorithms).
It is worth noting this strand is specifically focused on the K-5 learning group, and is the most incorporated into other subjects like math and science. While grades 6-12 are meant to exhibit these same principles, learning materials are blended into other strands for a more practical focus.
Impacts of Computing
With the Impacts of Computing strand, the focus turns to how computers affect our lives in more abstract ways. This includes social impacts, cultural impacts, and how we recognize those impacts to engage with technology responsibly.
Algorithms and Programming
The Algorithms and Programming strand is the most traditional of computer science. In this strand, students focus on using code to construct instructions, and how these methodologies provide all functionality to computers. This area also emphasizes how to define and solve real-world problems.
Core Practices Strands
Fostering an Inclusive Computing Culture
This strand is one focused on recognizing different users have different computing needs. Students are expected to learn to not only identify these needs, but change and adapt designs to reflect different perspectives and user requirements.
Collaborating Around Computing
In this strand, standards focus on two things. First is the general idea of teaching students that working in pairs and teams is important and conducive to real work-life scenarios. Second is how using computers and their tools can aid in the collaboration process.
Developing and Using Abstractions
The goal of this strand is for students to learn techniques for recognizing patterns and processes. This can include things as simple as recognizing reused code that could be made more efficient, to developing simulations of real-world problems and determining how parameters affect specific outcomes.
This particular strand is noteworthy for being more prevalent in grades 6 through 12.
Creating Computational Artifacts
Through this strand, the focus goes to the practical construction of programs, animations, and more using computational tools. Students are encouraged to explore personal expression, addressing societal issues, and how to plan their projects around specific goals and limitations.
Testing and Refining Computational Artifacts
Related to the previous strand, this strand is focused on testing. Standards here focus on students being able to handle testing procedures in a systematic manner, and how to fix those issues to improve the overall program’s experience.
Recognizing and Defining Computational Problems
Given the prevalence of technology, this strand is one aimed at encouraging kids to recognize how computers can solve problems. The standards focus on practicing not only defining and breaking down problems, but how to apply technology to implement solutions.
Communicating About Computing
As the name suggests, this strand is focused specifically on how we talk about computers. A large focus is given to terminology. However, the strand also focuses on other issues such as analyzing data to support conclusions and understanding copyright.
Grade Level Learning Goals in the Utah Computer Science Standards
Now that we covered strands, we also want to discuss a bit about the overall focus for each grade level. While we won’t go into every specific standard, we will give you an idea of what students will be learning at each level to help give you a better idea of the progression.
This information will also help when choosing learning resources, as platforms like Zenva Schools offer a lot that can be adapted depending on which grade level you’re teaching.
Utah Computer Science Standards Goals for Kindergarten
- Exploring different technology and how it can be used for various tasks like taking pictures
- Understanding how people and devices connect, even through things like phones
- Identifying, making, and using patterns – and connecting these to how we understand data
- Breaking down problems and providing step-by-step solutions to those problems (like how to make breakfast)
Utah Computer Science Standards Goals for 1st Grade
- Identifying hardware and software, understanding their function, and using appropriate elements to complete tasks
- Collecting data (like surveys) and analyzing this data visually, with the aim to recognize trends to make predictions
- Expanding knowledge in algorithms, with an emphasis on how variables control data and how loops allow us to efficiently reuse code for repeated steps
- Utilizing collaboration and teamwork
- Understanding how problems are solved – current or otherwise – with a focus on real-world application
Utah Computer Science Standards Goals for 2nd Grade
- Mastery of the physical aspects of using computers, with an emphasis on being able to connect peripheral devices
- Understanding password protection basics
- Collecting and analyzing data, with a focus on how to store and find that data on a device
- Steps of software development, including breaking down problems, working with teams, and debugging and testing to make sure algorithms work
- Fundamentals for the social impact of computers and for protecting private, digital information
Utah Computer Science Standards Goals for 3rd Grade
- An understanding of input, processing, and output as it relates to computer device connections
- Foundations for understanding network security and how one can personally protect their data
- Using data and graphs to showcase evidence and present ideas
- Expanding sequences with conditionals, modifying variable data, and verifying the integrity of algorithms with testing
- Exploring software creation with an emphasis on job specialization, design considerations, and modularization
- Grasping additional impacts of computers, including the role of copyright
- Mastery of problem decomposition with a focus on tackling robust problems facing society
Utah Computer Science Standards Goals for 4th Grade
- Fundamentals of the concept of a “system” – i.e. how computer parts all work together in tandem
- Grasping ideas around packets and data transmission over networks
- Expansion of data analysis techniques, including organizing data and altering data for the purposes of presentation
- Further expansion of software development and control flow, with a new emphasis on comparing algorithms to determine efficient solutions
- Exploration into cultural impacts caused by computers
- Foundations for dealing with accessibility in designs
- Breaking down problems with a focus on abstracting core elements to be solved
Utah Computer Science Standards Goals for 5th Grade
- How to troubleshoot hardware and software issues
- Data transmission across networks, with a great emphasis on hardware and the role of the internet
- Further practice on using data analysis to communicate ideas – with an additional focus on the storage impacts of different kinds of data
- Practice deconstructing problems for programming, refining algorithms, and editing existing algorithms
- Developing and designing programs considering users and rights, while also being able to describe those choices
- Exploration into improving computers for different users’ needs
Utah Computer Science Standards Goals for 6th Grade
- Developing systematic processes for troubleshooting hardware and software
- Exploration into security threats for networked computers
- Showcasing how the same data can be presented in different ways
- Creating more consistent programs/algorithms with principles for using pseudocode, naming conventions, and annotations to denote program functionality
- Recognizing bias in terms of accessibility design
Utah Computer Science Standards Goals for 7th Grade
- Alterations in device design to create different styles of interaction
- Understanding of protocols for network data transfer
- Using digital tools to aid in data collection and manipulation
- Designing programs, keeping in mind control structures and project timelines
- Using user feedback and systematic debugging to refine programs
- Exploration of pros and cons of computers in everyday life
Utah Computer Science Standards Goals for 8th Grade
- Creation of projects that combine hardware, software, and data collection
- Expansion of data transmission protocols for networks and, especially, the internet
- Understanding how changing data can affect outcome simulations
- Exploring coding principles such as combining conditions, using functions & parameters, and similar
- Taking advantage of pre-existing coding systems while respecting the rights of users
Utah Computer Science Standards Goals for 9th & 10th Grade
- Knowledge of the concept of abstraction and how this veils details of computers in different magnitudes
- Composing documentation for troubleshooting, program functionality, and more for users
- Understanding all aspects needed to connect computers – including protocols and issues that may affect performance
- Expansion of data analysis skills, including how data can be represented with binary, understanding different storage methods, and how to adapt visualizations for real-world problems
- Using comprehensive coding principles in algorithms, including collections, object-oriented programming, and modular design techniques
- Incorporating collaborative elements into programs, including third-party code and tools
- Refining programs through feedback and tests, with extra focus on performance issues
- Further identification of impacts – with an emphasis on understanding unintended biases and how to evaluate and fix designs with this in mind
- Exploring how algorithms can be applied past computing systems
Utah Computer Science Standards Goals for 11th & 12th Grade
- A greater understanding of security threats presented by the internet – and the techniques used to combat those threats
- Creating computer-based models to represent various types of data
- Mastery of the full cycle of development – including program algorithm design for problem-solving, testing with user feedback, team collaborations on program creation, and composition of program documentation
- Expansion in concepts of computers’ impacts and identifying design deficits – with a focus on creating processes to better identify issues
- Application of computational thinking to everyday life scenarios
The Utah Computer Science Standards vs. Other US Standards
Briefly, we do want to discuss how the Utah Computer Science Standards match against other US curriculum standards.
Before the implementation of these standards, Utah was utilizing the K-12 Computer Science Framework as part of its educational focus. In fact, much of the Utah Computer Science Standards were based off this original framework – including the strands used.
However, the Utah Computer Science Standards have a more defined focused on how to approach teaching for each grade – compared to the K-12 Computer Science Frameworks focus more so on just a few chunks of age groups.
Additionally so, the Utah Computer Science Standards more heavily divides the idea of “practices” from the framework into two major areas. Their hope is this makes it clearer which foundations should be provided for and after elementary school ages.
That being said, the standards aren’t horribly different, so teachers coming from the K-12 Computer Science Framework, or resources like Zenva Schools that use this framework, should easily adapt to Utah’s personal tweaks.
Resources for the Utah Computer Science Standards
The Utah Computer Science Standards ultimately opens many doors for students and teachers. Not only do they provide a necessary framework for teaching important classroom skills, but give clearly defined goals to make sure teachers can adapt lesson plans as needed.
However, rest assured you are not alone in teaching these standards. Below, we’ve included some of our favorite resources that can be used for your classroom.
Each course consists of a variety of different learning materials to accommodate for different learning and teaching styles. These materials can include video and text lessons, text-based summaries of lesson materials, source code, in-browser coding exercises, and quizzes.
Of note, the courses are also project-based – so students aren’t just stuck in boring lectures. Instead, they get the opportunity to make real-world projects. All the courses are also designed by industry experts and reviewed by teachers to ensure the highest quality learning material is available.
As an online platform, Zenva Schools can be used anywhere – from the classroom itself to the student’s home. It also contains material from as early as Grade 3, all the way to Grade 12 – making it useful for most classroom situations.
Beyond this, Zenva Schools offers a variety of features for teachers. This includes classroom management tools (similar to an LMS), reporting features to track student progress, access for multiple teachers, and more.
On top of this, Zenva Schools is also designed so teachers can use it for their own professional development, ensuring teachers are familiar with the topics they want to teach to students.
With pre-made course plans for the K-12 Computer Science Framework as well (the framework on which the Utah Computer Science Standards was inspired), Zenva Schools is a fantastic resource for classrooms!
Other Utah Computer Science Standards Resources
If you need additional help, please check out the list below of other great resources that are sure to aid in teaching the Utah Computer Science Standards.
- Utah State Board of Education – Official Computer Science Standards
- Khan Academy
- Raspberry Pi
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