I am posting my CS Education week report waaaaay after CS Education Week – for someone who cares about CS like I do, this feels weird!
At Compass, our school leadership felt strongly that we needed some “teacher time” to wrap up semester 1 and plan for semester 2. They’re not wrong… we did need it. There are an awful lot of loose ends we never really tied up for the beginning of first semester, and we NEEDED to tie them up for second semester. Huge questions, like how will we give feedback to students, how will we measure them with respect to graduation requirements, levels of autonomy, competency and such. We didn’t even have clarity on basic questions like will we measure their content knowledge, core competencies, social-emotional intelligence or some combination… So yeah. We needed the time! During the past two weeks, the teaching staff at Compass met every day for a couple of hours and our main task was to assess every single kid. And we did. We spread rubrics all over a room at Colorado State and we had a conversation about EVERY KID. It was empowering and also exhausting, but I came away feeling like what we did was important and good. How great is it to say we know every single one of our 150 students, we know where they stand and what they need to do in order to graduate as a well-adjusted and competent member of society.
While we were assessing and planning, that left our school leaders and a bunch of volunteers with 150 students in the building for a couple of hours every day. So we ran a coding camp for the students, led by volunteers! It was so strange to not be involved in the coding camp, but I had to let it go in order to get our act together as a school. But it turned out to be a fantastic experience and I am so very humbled by what our volunteers and kids can do.
Our main volunteer for the coding camp was Karthik Palusa – he’s a CSU student and the owner of his own startup company in Fort Collins. He rallied some other volunteers and came in every afternoon for two weeks to run the camp. The structure was fairly simple. For the first hour every day, the kids did self-paced tutorials on coding at code.org, Khan Academy or the coding environment of their choice. For the second hour, they worked with a team on a hackathon project. The project could solve any problem they wanted, but they had to collaborate and create something that went through the entire design cycle from identifying a problem through prototyping a solution. Many students coded webpages, Scratch games, apps on code.org… some went a little farther and we even had some student groups make games in Unity. At the end, the students submitted their programs online. Karthik and a group of volunteers graded the programs and awarded prizes in three categories: younger beginner, older beginner, and intermediate / advanced. Some examples of winning programs included a math-education game, an anti-whale poaching game, an educational mobile app about climate change, and a Scratch animation about deforestation.
The kids had a great time. They learned so much. It was really liberating for me, honestly. I’ve been the only computer science teacher in a building for such a long time. Then here comes a group of volunteers and they prove that if kids have motivation, a chance to collaborate and be creative, and some support, they can indeed learn to enjoy coding. I’m really excited to take our program farther at the school, but look what an awesome head start we have. I was skeptical at first, but I would recommend this structure of a coding camp. You don’t need to have a staff with a lot of CS expertise to help children learn about computer coding. You can round up some helpful volunteers and some self-paced websites, add a competition and some prizes… and look what happens.
This coming semester, I’ll be teaching a venture project on “whimsical inventions”. The idea is to learn about the Maker Mindset. How to tinker, create, and make fun things just for the joy of making and sharing. It’s about building resilience and the ability to fail upward. And we’ll learn to code and create cool things with micro:bits and Arduinos. I’m very excited to teach real CS again and it should be a great followup to this coding camp experience.
Thank you to all of our volunteers and our administration for making the past two weeks happen. It was awesome.