Nashville's middle schools are adding mandatory coding class for the first time. It's part of a larger curriculum overhaul for middle grades. But the district doesn't have many coding teachers because programmers are in such high demand. So administrators turned to a local charter school that faced the same dilemma three years ago.
About a dozen middle school teachers are getting a crash course in coding this summer. As soon as they learn one lesson, they turn around and teach it to each other.
As Elizabeth Lybarger stands before her peers, she screams. "Ahh, ahhh, ahhh." She's made a programming error on purpose in her lesson that involves animating a cat. "He's running so fast? What's happening?" she asks her role-playing students.
Lybarger's demonstrating a computer language developed by MIT known as Scratch. She's taught theater in Metro Schools for nearly a decade, but she sees computer programming as the future. So she is happy to enter a new discipline and not too concerned about having to learn right alongside her students.
"You're more likely to take risks, to be open," she says. "That's the whole point in a classroom environment is that you're constantly asking questions and you're solving problems and you're working together. Because it's not about learning the answer, it's about learning the process. And that's the whole point of computer science."
In a rare cross-pollination with charter schools, the district hired RePublic to train teachers and *adopted the charter operator's coding curriculum. RePublic has worked with schools in five states, but until now, not the district that oversees it.
"Often we invent things in silos by ourselves and that causes extra workload and duplication of resources," says Kris Elliott, director of STEM curriculum for Metro Schools. "But it also prevents from having those conversations across different organizations where we really create one product that's much better for our students. So we're all about collaboration and cooperation."
RePublic's coding initiative launched in 2014, and Michael Burgevin was there from the beginning.
Now he's the director of computer science at RePublic, which figures the only way most schools are going to find coding instructors is to teach them. Three years ago, he was a math teacher who raised his hand to learn coding.
"It's the same math skills, but you're doing it in a very applied way now," Burgevin says. "What we've learned is any great instructor can be a strong computer science teacher if they're given the background and the skills needed."
*Correction: A previous version of this story incorrectly said Metro Schools purchased RePublic's coding curriculum. The payment was only for the training. We regret the error.