Tim Swick is a seasoned elementary school teacher with 22 years of experience, and he is currently lead teacher of the Computer Science Immersion School at Sandlapper Elementary in Columbia, SC. Starting at the time of the immersion school’s inception in 2019, Tim coordinated the development of an integrated, schoolwide computer science curriculum that blends robotics, block-based coding, and Minecraft Education with different grade-level content and subject areas. In 2022, Sandlapper was recognized by Magnet Schools of America with the New and Emerging Magnet School of Merit Award of Excellence.
Tim is a National Board–certified teacher, and he holds a doctorate in curriculum and instruction, with a focus on educational technology and innovative learning design, from the University of South Carolina. His dissertation research examined the impact of computational thinking in a school’s makerspace. Tim received the 2022 Teaching Excellence Award from CSTA and the Infosys Foundation, and he was selected to the 2022 class of South Carolina ACSD Emerging Leaders.
At the core of Tim’s teaching philosophy is the belief that early exposure to computer science is a key factor in involving underrepresented students in later CS education, higher education, and careers. He says, “If we are going to successfully solve the problem of diversity in the tech workforce, then it will need to begin at an early age.” Since the Computer Science Immersion School’s 2019 launch, its integrated curriculum has rolled out to every kid at the school. Tim trained the entire school’s staff on the curriculum prior to its rollout, and he continues to provide coaching to his fellow teachers on an as-needed basis.
The school now has a comprehensive computer science pathway from kindergarten through fifth grade. Although the pathway was intended for students in traditional education, Tim worked alongside special education teachers to provide afterschool makerspace activities for so-called “at-risk” students, and to design robotics activities suitable for students in the special education program. Along with his fellow teachers, Tim works hard to integrate CS with core content areas, and the school has seen dramatic improvements in test scores for those core areas since the CS program’s inception, including a 31% increase in language arts and a 45% increase in science.
Tim continually finds new ways to make computer science relevant to the student population at his predominantly Black Title 1 school. He has instituted schoolwide awareness weeks in which he uses the school’s news show to highlight the CS contributions of people from various groups underrepresented in the field. Students participate in celebrations called “StarCons,” sharing their CS-integrated projects with their community. Tim created a school makerspace where students use the design process to develop empathy for others and work on passion projects of their own; and he established and runs an afterschool robotics program with a special focus on recruiting female, nonbinary, and gender-expansive students participants, as a counter to the underrepresentation of those populations in computer science.
Tim is proud of the program he’s worked so hard to implement, but he also recognizes that equity in computer science requires building capacity to continue and expand existing CS programs. He coauthored and, for the past two years, has co-facilitated a CSPDWeek session called “Hands-On Computing for K–5 Teachers.” Recently, Tim was elected as regional coordinator for CSTA South Carolina. In both of these roles, he has the opportunity to meet new CS educators, support their work, and encourage them to create new CS courses for their own schools.
Tim has established a partnership with Code.org to introduce computer science into elementary schools across the district. Through this partnership, Tim and other CS teachers around the country create workshops for teachers who are new to CS, using Code.org’s elementary Computer Science Fundamentals curriculum. Thus far, Tim has developed a cohort of sixteen CS teachers from four different schools, all of whom are training to teach CS to their students.
Heading into his CSTA Equity Fellowship, Tim hopes to gain insight into how he can be a better advocate for elementary-level computer science and how he can use equitable teaching practices to create more inclusive teaching environments. He says, “To achieve big ideas, I feel it necessary to engage in meaningful conversations alongside other expert leaders.” He hopes to learn what other educators are doing to improve equity in their CS classrooms, reflect on his own practice, and incorporate the lessons learned into his program design, implementation, and teaching training.
Tim hopes that his time as an Equity Fellow will help him identify ways to continue growing CS in his school and district in a just and sustainable way. His school is currently developing a system of micro-credentials for teachers to encourage their professional growth in CS, and Tim would love to one day see a state-level CS endorsement for teaching certificates. “I feel that if states take the bold step of recognizing elementary teachers for their expertise, it paves the way for broader scale CS implementation,” he says. He’s also eager to advocate for creating district-level CS leadership roles, to help CS break out of its traditional silo and provide consistent, reliable decision-making for CS programs in the district.
More than anything, Tim wants to advance the cause of elementary-level CS education, which he finds so crucial to the problems of diversity that the field continues to face. “I have witnessed firsthand that elementary teachers can and will get excited about integrating CS into their instruction,” he says. “To address issues of equity in CS, strong elementary CS programs are vital.”