After a degree in information systems, Grant Smith worked in Silicon Valley. Responding to a calling to teach, Grant became an Arizona Teaching Fellows, an alternative certification program sponsored by The New Teacher Project.
His first assignment in a high poverty south Phoenix school was supposed to be teaching finance but just before school started the principal looked at his resume and asked him if he could teach coding. "There are not many people like me that have a degree in IS or computer science, have worked in Silicon Valley, and who change careers to become teachers," said Smith.
After a successful year, nearby Avondale School District asked Smith to bring the program to their nine schools. The K-8 schools replaced an existing 40 minute typing and computer applications class with a focus on coding. Many teachers were involved including the PE and art teachers. The key, according to Smith was weekly professional development.
Smith created a curriculum guide that draws from one hundred open resources including Code.org and Khan Academy. The sequenced K-8 lessons are aligned with Common Core and next-gen science standards.
Ari Ioannides, president of Emerald Data Solutions, provider of BoardDocs, read about the Avondale coding program in Edutopia. Ari had learned to code at a disadvantaged school and it proved to be his pathway to a successful career. He called Grant and invited him to Park City, Utah.
Park City superintendent Ember Conley was enthusiastic when she heard about the program. Her team worked with Grant to launch a daily first grade coding program. She said, "We have a team of instructional coaches, gifted and talented specialists, and instructional technology coaches incorporating these lessons."
Next year the program will expand to K-3. The high school will add coding electives.
"We have the opportunity to pilot this implementation and provide recommendations to Ari and Grant to successfully implement this program nationwide," said Conley.
Grant will be there for a year and then move on to less advantaged school districts. He's encouraged by early results propelled by a Gallup study suggests that 91% of parents want kids to learn to code.
Smith thinks it's great that Silicon Valley funders are pouring millions of dollars into learning-to-code organizations but he said, "teachers need much more than free curriculum and a one day training to feel comfortable teaching a new subject matter. They need ongoing professional development and real support from people who have already implemented coding classes."
It's unusual for a company to hire a coding teacher but Ari believes these pilot programs will make a difference.
Grant added, "I'm amazed by business leaders like Ari who are putting in the necessary resources to implement coding classes right here, right now. Real change happens when teachers are trained and administrators champion the initiative."