Coding in the Classroom

If you’ve been paying attention you know the latest buzz in edtech is a push to teach kids to code, with much credit for the recent surge in publicity going to Code.org and their Hour of Code efforts during Computer Science Education Week last December. However, I have been curious to see how schools are pushing past the challenge of just introducing ‘learn to code’ apps to create more authentic experiences for students to gain exposure to computer science concepts. My research recently led me to Summit Public Schools, a charter network with six schools that is already fairly well-known for their innovative blended learning practices, where all students have their own Chromebook and spend time daily progressing through their personalized learning plans.

summit_logo

Beyond experimenting with blended learning approaches, Summit created their Expeditions Program to encourage more interest-based activities for students throughout the school year. Over each two month period students spend 6-weeks in their normal class schedule and then 2-weeks participating in expeditions that they select from a menu of options designed around their interests.  I sat down with Greg Ponikvar, Director of Expeditions, who manages this aspect of the curriculum across 6 schools and approximately 1700 students. He shared some details about their current STEM offerings as well as plans for the next school year. 

IMAG0212

Warm-up exercise– translating code screen (which in this case is the white board)

Summit currently offers a computer science elective course for 25 students at 4 of their 6 campuses through at partnership with the Miller Institute (LearningTech.org) and are looking to expand that offering by hiring their own full time CS teacher next year. Ponikvar is exploring how to require at least one week of exposure to CS related topics for each student, which includes visits to local tech companies like Google.

During my visit I got a chance to observe Sam Strasser, Platform Architect on the Summit tech team, who is currently leading an expedition to introduce students to basic web design concepts, specifically html, css and javascript. Strasser is designing the 2-week curriculum himself, leveraging free online tools like Codecademy and JS Bin with emphasis on teaching debugging strategies and getting students comfortable finding answers themselves.

IMAG0213

Always comes back to paper and pencil– Strasser diagramming jQuery selectors and functions

While he is the first to admit that he doesn’t have any formal teaching experience, Strasser did a great job creating an environment where the students were teaching and learning from each other. With the vast libraries of resources, a core aspect of teaching kids to code is empowering them to troubleshoot their own issues, building confidence and learning how to get unstuck.

With the growing number of free online tools like CodeHSTynker and ScratchEd, I’m hopeful we will see more efforts like this to get coding into classrooms and make it relevant for students.

Advertisements

SparkTruck: Making Educators

The K12 Lab at Stanford’s d.school has designed a series of CreativityBoosters for Educators, to explore experiments in teaching & learning and building creative confidence. On Saturday in collaboration with MakerState, SparkTruck hosted a session on how to incorporate hands-on activities into lessons.

In true d.school fashion the brightly-colored post-its and creative juices were flowing. Inspired by the truck itself, the SparkTruck team created the session on a framework of IT BEEPS Identity, Teamwork, Brainstorming, Prototyping and Storytelling.

IMAG0124

They did a terrific job modeling how to conduct activities like this with students and emphasized the d.mindsets that fuel their work: radical collaboration, bias to action, building to think, show don’t tell and overcoming stuck points. We began with a group activity centered around a common problem that has been frustrating teachers since the beginning of time–

IMAG0126

Groups jumped into the brainstorming process, moving on to prototyping and then went around and shared what they had made. Then MakerState took over and set up several stations around the room where participants could practice different maker-focused activities, such as creating a pop-up book or a 7sec stop-motion animation.

What was most impressive is the diversity of educators and enthusiasts that attend these events. In my own work with TeacherSquare I know how difficult it can be for educators to take time out of their schedules for sessions like this, no matter how engaging or relevant they may be. It is clear that schools that create a community and incentives around these experiences reap the most benefits.  For example, a group of teachers and their principal made the trip down from Tiburon together, and I’m sure it helped that they were all being compensated for their time and participation. However, I doubt everyone in the room receives that type support from their schools.

I’m optimistic that collectively we can change the face of PD by creating more opportunities like this for educators to put themselves in the place of students in engaging experiences and be compensated for their time and energy.

Wan to see for yourself? The next sessions are on March 8th and April 12th- RSVP here.

Creating a Culture of i-Can

Where was this when I was young? I’ve been researching various STEM learning programs and recently came across Imagineerz, a design-thinking focused summer camp for elementary school kids.

WebOFMain2

Imagineerz is the brainchild of Vaibhavi Gala, a fellow alum of the Stanford Graduate School of Education (ICE ’00), whose high school dream was to create a student-centered learning experience focusing on creativity and confidence building. Once her own children were in elementary school she knew the timing was right to explore her inner entrepreneur.

In March 2011 Gala decided to take the plunge, quitting her comfortable job in corporate training to focus on creating an experience for kids ‘to become positive and confident makers.’ The first program started in the summer of 2011 and in their 4th year of programming this summer they will serve approximately 75 students a week for four weeks in July. Building on her Stanford experience, she often recruits interns from the GSE to help her with the ongoing program and curriculum design.

As the camp and community grows Imagineerz is looking to deepen engagement with parents and kids during the year through a series of books and apps. With all the recent attention on the maker movement (the White House just announced their first MakerFaire), it would be amazing to see this type of programming become part of the K12 experience.