In any sprawling operation like the NY public schools, minor ecosystems develop, areas of experimentation or collaborative effort that sometimes prove to be engines of innovation. Recently, one of the more intriguing has been the so-called iZone NYC initiative. The Innovation Zone (iZone) supports schools that are looking to bring fresh thinking to college and career preparation, often through the application of new technologies. The iZone has grown from some 80 schools at its founding in 2010 to encompass 300 last year.
One of the iZone’s more exciting efforts has been the creation of the Blended Learning Institute (BLI), in partnership with Pace University. The BLI offers a two-year training and certification program to expand the horizons of already credentialed teachers by giving them a thorough grounding in techniques for integrating digital tools and online instruction into their classroom practice, especially in ways that are personalized to individual student needs. We’ve written in the past about the ways in which this sort of disruptive thinking has been proving itself in classrooms around the world. The first cohort of BLI-trained teachers just joined the rosters of NYC schools last year.
And the innovation continues. Last spring, the iZone program announced another partnership through the BLI. The Institute is collaborating with Code.org, the high-profile non-profit encouraging the expansion of computer science education in K-12, and the NYC Foundation for Computer Science to create a supplementary three-month Computer Science Track for BLI teachers. The idea, exceedingly obvious once it’s out there, is to bring the technology-intensive work of Blended Learning to bear on the under-developed area of school-aged coding.
An oddity of contemporary education is that for all the rhetoric about technology in the classroom and the need to emphasize STEM programs, still so few high schools, let alone middle and elementary schools, offer substantial computer training. It’s a profound irony that computers and the arts should, of all things, be the two most neglected faculties in contemporary school curricula. (Needless to say, no one should be surprised which one is getting the flashy new training program.) Code.org can be a little over-bearing in their messianic attitude about the virute of teaching coding. Still, one can’t really argue. Given the ever-increasing centrality of computer interaction to our lives, this pilot effort is pretty much a gimme. The prospect of a new generation of highly-energized teachers taking coding into the classroom is, honestly, pretty cool. Here’s hoping for a similar surge in art and music education.