Wednesday, May 30, 2018

AZ Coding at the Capitol

It's been a busy past few months, but now that I've got some time to catch up on some posts I've been meaning to write, I thought I'd start with an event that we held at the AZ Capitol in May - an event that I've come to refer to as AZ Coding at the Capitol. Through the support of Microsoft and Senator Yee, we were able to hold this incredible event to celebrate and demonstrate computer science by having students program Minecraft alongside senators during their lunch break in between sessions. Not only so, but the AZ Coding at the Capitol was held immediately after Senator Yee read a resolution that highlighted the need for STEM and computer science training and education opportunities especially for underrepresented groups such as girls. There was a great turn-out with bipartisan representation and the senators and students enjoyed collaborating and communicating as they coded. Here are a few things that I thought were critical to holding a successful coding at the Capitol event:

  • Find a champion who is passionate about computer science and equity issues and is looking for opportunities to partner and amplify these issues. Provide data, statistics, and relevant research to the champion as well as take every opportunity to share your passion and tell your stories about CS - your personal 'why.' More often than not, I've found that sharing my personal 'why' resonates with others on so many levels. 
  • Partner across sectors to ensure a balanced representation including industry, non-profit, Computer Science Teachers Association's (CSTA)local chapter, schools, districts, educators, and legislative and senate staff. Every stakeholder is needed. In our case, Microsoft provided the laptops we used, staff took care of ordering lunch and reserving the space, partners took care of inviting senators, Code.org facilitated conference calls among primary participants to ensure ongoing planning conversations, and educators handled recruiting and transporting students as well as getting parent permission. CSTA and other partners from CSforAZ task-force were on-hand to facilitate conversations and support the actual event. 
  • Provide background on the event to the students. Run through the schedule with them step-by-step, provide them with the link to the coding activity prior to the event and ensure that they have all completed them and are comfortable with them. Also, talk with them about how to greet the senators, say hello, shake hands, introduce themselves. Along with this, it's also helpful to role-play pair-programming with the students to ensure that they provide the senators with the opportunity to 'drive' while they 'navigate' through some of the activities. This helps to ensure that the senators actually get time to be in the driver's seat and experience the joy that comes with creating using code.
Working toward CS for all is a tremendous undertaking and my biggest takeaway of all? It truly takes all of us working together. 



Sunday, April 8, 2018

Meet Jackie

Through being part of the Presidential Awardee for Excellence in Mathematics and Science Teaching (PAEMST) community, I've recently had the honor of connecting with a fellow recipient - Jacqueline Corricelli. In addition to our PAEMST connection, we are both also computer science educators and advocates. I am so fortunate to have been able to get to know her and to interview her for this blog post.

What does PAEMST mean to you?

PAEMST is a formal celebration of how much I love math and learning.  I am humbled and honored to be a part of this powerful network of teachers.  It means that I have done well so far in terms of learning, growing, and leading.  It also means that I have a responsibility to continue this journey.  I continue to seek ways to increase my abilities to reach more students, help more teachers love this field, and grow my own knowledge base.  

Tell me about your CS journey...

My computer science journey started at a young age.  I have always loved technology and learning.  My first experience with programming was when my aunt gifted my a Commodore PC.  Older Ranger Rick magazines had Basic Programs in them (at least that is what I remember).  I coded them on this computer, experimenting especially with pictures.   I saved these programs on an old tape player and replayed/adjusted them.  I did not know this was computer science.  It was a fun way to pass the time.  In school I loved mathematics.  My degree was in Math and Statistics from the University of Connecticut.  To me, math was a beautiful story that never really ended.  I did not discover the computer as a tool and/or computer science until I graduated from UConn and started work at Raytheon as a Systems Engineer.  There, I used C++, Matlab, and several other programs.  I went to school at night to learn programming (C++) and I read/researched/attended seminars at Raytheon related to Radar Systems and Electrical Engineering.  It was "just-in-time" training.  I had wonderful mentors/teachers who helped me to fill in the holes so I could be successful in my job.  I stayed there for three years, learning and growing.  At the same time I was volunteering at the Framingham YMCA helping a young girl learn math.  Kristy helped me understand that the type of learning I was doing (on the job, just in time) is a way to help students learn math too.  I began transitioning to the field of education about a year after I started working with her.  My certification is in math education, 7-12.  I had earned 24 credits in this area at UConn so the pathway to certification was not too strenuous.  By Summer 2003 I had my first job teaching Math and the school I had graduated from - East Windsor HS, CT.  There, I taught programming and/or computer science skills within math courses.  I loved helping students use their graphing calculator to code/automate solutions.  In addition, we used Excel and Geometer's Sketchpad as computational tools to automate and better understand math.  For all of this, math was the centerpiece.  I transitioned to teaching computer science as a standalone skill/course in 2013.  I started teaching in West Hartford CT (Conard HS) in August 2010.  I started working toward teaching AP CS A by attending summer institutes in Summer 2012.  My supervisor and principal at the time supported my training.  I became a Phase II Pilot Teacher for AP CS Principles in 2013.  Then our school partnered with the state to bring Exploring CS as a course to round out our curriculum.  So, in order, we started with AP CS A, then AP CS Principles, and now Exploring CS.  I have taught all three.  I currently teach AP CS A, AP CS Principles, and Precalculus.  I have also written a test prep book for AP CS Principles; https://www.amazon.com/Computer-Science-Principles-Advanced-Placement/dp/0738612340.  The next course we are looking to bring to Conard is in Cybersecurity. I will be attending a Gen-Cyber training this summer.    

Please share a memorable moment teaching CS.

I have been teaching AP CS A for five years now so some of my former students are now employed.  One of these students came back to Conard and helped my current students prepare for a technical interview.  She led the interview, using one of my current students as a "candidate" and helped that person (and every other person in the room) be better prepared to land the job of their dreams.  This is something I constantly come back to in my classes to justify why students need to practice explaining their thoughts, defending their reasoning, helping each other, and asking questions.... it was a totally authentic defense of project-based learning/teaching.  In addition, the idea of each generation helping the next to grow and be better prepared for the future is the main reason I went into teaching - it was a lovely reminder of that for me.  

What do you think is the greatest challenge in CS education and how do you think it can be addressed?


The greatest challenge is how do we find and retain creative and innovative people in an institution that is slow to change.  The best part of American Education is that we believe anyone can and should be given the opportunity to learn.  The system is rooted in tradition centered on this valiant principal.  However, from these roots, the system does not have enough flexibility to change.  The current structure of funding, training, and coursework means that in order to fully implement computer science K-12 we need more flexibility than currently exists. Certification continues to pose a problem at all grade levels.  With computer science it is a major issue since that field and the associated learning will never be complete for a teacher that wants to be current with the field.  Teachers are eager to learn, but opportunities are not always available to them due to cost or location.  To learn project based approaches and authentic content, teachers would benefit from on-the-job training.  It would be wonderful for all teachers to experience what it is like to work in the field and learn what is going on right now so some of these authentic problems can be shared with students, without penalty to their work place or retirement. This could be accomplished during the summers or perhaps through sabbatical experiences.  This would also allow workplaces near to the location of graduates to influence our instruction to better prepare our graduates for their future.
I'd like to take the opportunity to express how grateful I am to my district and my coworkers for their ongoing support. My supervisor is a leader in our district and my greatest supporter. Thank you! 

Thank you, Jackie, for all you do for CS every day! 

"It's Google Magic!"

"Whoa!" "Wow!" "It's Google magic!" It was amazing to see students' reactions to Google AR Expeditions when they came to my school to pilot the new augmented reality educational app. Here's a little video intro to what it's all about. And the 'whoas' you hear and see in the video are the 'whoas' I saw and heard from my students!
What excites me most of all about this technology is the potential to disrupt the way students currently learn and the access that they have to information. I can imagine AR coming into how we teach students concepts, skills and understandings that may typically be abstract or inaccessible to them. AR objects can be used to hone and develop their skills of observation. This technology can open opportunities to students to explore the world up-close no matter their background. With the scan of a QR code, objects pop out and emerge into 3D form. Students can see and explore the object in 360, from the top, underneath, and even go inside a lobster, Roman ship, and more.



The best part was the letters that students wrote to Google after the experience. These showed just how immersive the learning experiences with AR was to them!






Tuesday, February 6, 2018

The Power of Encouragement

I recently heard an expression used in the context of overcoming the diversity issues in the IT and computing fields - what we need to combat the lack of diversity are 'circuit breakers' or practices that can truly break the cycle, or circuit of inequity. Put together with Google's CS research paper "Encouraging Students Toward Computer Science Learning" and a book called the Power of Our Words, I came across a circuit breaker that is so powerful, yet so overlooked - the power of encouragement. Consider the following from Google's paper - that students who have been encouraged by a teacher or parent are three times more likely to be interested in learning CS. Here's the clincher though - that not all kids do not have the same likelihood of receiving this critical encouragement. The report highlights the role that unintentional biases in well-intentioned parents and the very best of teachers have that in turn lead to inequity in terms of expectations, instructional practice, and encouragement. From the report, for example, boys are nearly twice as likely as girls to report that a parent has told them that they would be good at CS.

So where does this journey begin? I believe a critical first step is reflecting on one's own biases and as an educator, it means thinking about hard questions such as: Who do I believe can or cannot learn computer science? From there, it goes to reflecting on one's own teaching practice and curriculum - is it responsive to all students' needs or does it only cater to a select, 'advanced' few who have already had a head start with computing anyway? Encouraging comes in many forms in the classroom. It comes in the form of words and communicating to every student that sense of "I believe in you and that you are a creative problem-solver with the ability to change the world with your incredible ideas." It comes from providing them with role models and mentors who can show them that they can do CS through programs like Technolochicas that elevate the voice of Latina women and inspire more to pursue computing pathways.

Our words are powerful - in the words of Yehuda Berg:
Words are singularly the most powerful force available to humanity. We can choose to use this force constructively with words of encouragement, or destructively using words of despair. Words have energy and power with the ability to help, to heal, to hinder, to hurt, to harm, to humiliate and to humble.”



Monday, November 20, 2017

CSforAZ Updates

It's been an amazing journey this year - working with a group of dedicated volunteers to bring computer science to all.  I wanted to share our latest endeavor - a newsletter to update the CS community on all the latest updates and events. Here's our first edition!


Sunday, October 29, 2017

Mentoring to Sponsor

I was out at dinner a little while back with one of my former students and a college student majoring in computer science (CS) with whom I had worked on a variety of community initiatives around CS. It wasn't just any dinner though. It was intentionally arranged so that they could meet a contact of mine who was heading up a new initiative to inspire Latinas and their families about opportunities in technology - Technolochicas. You see, Technolochicas was looking for ambassadors - young Latinas who could serve as role models to the entire community of how they had pursued CS and technology-related endeavors. Immediately these two girls came to mind - both incredibly inspiring and accomplished at their young age already with CS. Being a Technolochicas ambassador would be an incredible way to raise their visibility, so when this contact was planning to be in town, we got to work on arranging a dinner together. Along with my contact and students, two other accomplished young Latinas were also there - in fact, one was an engineer with General Motors. As we sit and begin to converse, sharing stories and backgrounds, the engineer suddenly exclaims to me, "You're a sponsor!" I responded with, "You mean a mentor? I don't have money to be anyone's sponsor...I'm just a teacher." She follows with, "No, a sponsor. A sponsor does more than just guide and listen to their mentees. They go out of their way to help them make connections, they help them become more visible and known. That's what you are - their sponsor." As if that her convincing me wasn't enough, I went online and found this article describing the difference between being a mentor and a sponsor. These three points about being a sponsor stood out to me. Sponsors:

  • Intentionally orchestrate plans by design, not default - CHECK!
  • Champion and promote their mentees through increased visibility - CHECK!
  • Advocate for and expose mentees to opportunities CHECK!    So there you have it. I'm a sponsor and didn't even know it! And there is no other way I'd have it. What greater joy is there than to see former students recognized for their efforts? Here are some intros to a few of the inspiring young women at dinner that night:

Thursday, October 5, 2017

Three powerful words

As I start a new school year with a new group of computer science students, I am reminded of the three powerful words that capture the everyday, seemingly normal miracles of teaching and learning. It happened after teaching the first lessons of html and my 6th graders were just beginning to create ordered and unordered lists. All at once, I heard a chorus of voices exclaim with joy, "I did it." There you have it. Three powerful words. I did it. It struck me at that moment that this is what learning is all about. It's about being about to do something that I was not previously able to do. It's about surprising myself with what I am capable of doing - that is empowering. It's about stretching beyond what is currently possible and continuing to push the boundaries of what is possible.

Then I took a step back to reflect further. What does this mean to me as an educator? I realized that this is what makes teaching such a joy. To be able to witness students celebrate their own accomplishments as they are equipped and empowered with new skills. Taking it a step further, what does that mean to me in terms of ensuring that all of my students have access to these "I did it" experiences. Do I have students that cannot yet say these three words and what can I do about it? Asking myself these questions then brought to mind reading I had done on Universal Design and the parallels between Universal Design (UD) in the physical world with architecture, for example, and Universal Design for Learning.

I love in the 10 things to know about UD  that the first thing to know is that "Universal Design strives to improve the original design concept by making it more inclusive." In teaching, the same applies. As I strive to provide these "I did it" experiences to all of my students, it's about making my lesson more inclusive without taking away any rigor from it. It's also about understanding that UD "aspires to benefit every member of the population by promoting accessible and usable products, services and environments." As I reflected on what this meant to me in the classroom, I realized it is about remembering to use strategies that benefit all of my students. For example, building pair programming into my computer science benefits all of my students. Even more so, building in structures where my students switch partners every 5-10 minutes or so creates benefits for all of my students as well since they are in an environment that has them collaborating, communicating, and problem-solving together. Doing things to intentionally and deliberately build an inclusive community is essential, as highlighted in this great article on broadening participation in computing by supporting great teaching. 
Here's to a year full of empowering our students with many more choruses of "I did it's!"