Wednesday, September 5, 2018

Igniting Wonder in Young Minds

I love the tagline for Google Science Journal - inspire and empower. When it comes to science, I also think of igniting that sense of wonder in their minds so that they are asking the questions of "Why does that work the way it does?" "What if I do this? What will happen next?" "How can I make ____ happen?" Science is all about noticing patterns, making connections, and continually asking questions based on observed phenomena - and more often than not, observations include collecting data. So you can imagine how excited I was to find Google Science Journal - an app that can be added to any device and one that makes use of the sensors right on the phone to collect data and make sense of the world around us.

The first thing that came to mind when I started using Science Journal was not even all the things that I could do that were related to science, but the tremendous potential this had for providing equity and access to all. Science for all really has a chance of happening with something like Science Journal in the hands of anyone who has a phone. All the teachers I've shown this to have been equally amazed. One commented about how excited she was for her students to see and use their phone as something other than a device to connect socially with friends.

I tried Science Journal out today with a class of third graders along with two colleagues. We ran a 45 minute session with students sharing one phone per pair of students. Each of us ran a 'center' using the three introductory experiments: Getting Started with Light, Getting Started with Sound, and Getting Started with Motion. Every 12-15 minutes, the students rotated so that had a chance to explore all three. The students were amazed and were able to make connections between what they were seeing and doing in the physical world with what the sensors were responding to. The graphs and numbers provided great visuals and made sense to them whether they were moving the phone along the x, y, and z dimensions or making sounds of various pitches. It is intuitive and definitely drives a sense of curiosity and exploration. At the end of each center, I tried to help the students to make a connection between what the sensor does on the phone and other sensors that are used for other purposes such as detecting earthquakes or when a goal is scored. To demonstrate a seismograph, we put the phones in the middle of a table while we moved the table back and forth. Students were able to observe the sensor at work in the graphs. The  chorus of "Wow! Cool!"said it all - they were definitely inspired and empowered!

The thank you notes from the students said it best of all. Here are some examples, in their own words:
"It is cool that a sensor can register how much light is hitting something...I think it is very cool because you can see how much different things are shaking...PS We could use a real sensor to insert in cars so they don't crash into each other."

"We think we could use the app for natural disasters. We think we should put a sensor on the fastest car in the world."

"I really enjoyed learning about movement, sound, and light. Something that surprised us is how the app could tell us different measurements. I would like to put a sensor on a pencil to see the different movements of our pencil."

Monday, July 30, 2018

Empowering students to lead

As an educator and mentor, I have always firmly believed in empowering my students to not just fly, but to soar. I have always believed in the power of providing them with opportunities to learn without limits by including open-ended problems to solve, questions with more than 'one right answer,' - tasks that, as a student once told me, make them think so much that it "makes their brains hurt." Along with opportunities in the classroom, I've found great value with empowering them to lead in their communities. There is so much work to be done that I found just limiting to the school day was not enough time.
This is the background to why, a few years ago, two of my former students and I started coding clubs in the community. We wanted to reach out to communities where children may not have the opportunity to learn computer science. We started out with the local libraries and Boys and Girls Club. Both of these places were equipped with computer labs that prior to us coming in, were only used for the kids to play games. Turns out when we started them with creating with computers rather than just consuming technology, they loved it!
Fast forward to one of my students who then took this model to start coding clubs as her Girl Scout Gold Award project. Fast forward again to just a few weeks ago. We partnered with the Chief Science Officers (CSO) program. The powerful thing about this opportunity was that CSOs are students who are elected by their student body to be a STEM ambassador on their campus. In training one CSO, we were actually going to be able to reach an entire school. Since part of a CSO's responsibility is to implement a project each year, we thought it would be great to offer to train their CSOs on how to start a CS project/club in their setting. Depending on their time, interest, support, and local context, the CSO could choose to run a CS club, host a Family Code Night, or run a CS day or Hour of Code during CSEdWeek. The only glitch was that I was double-booked and leading another training. I was confident that my students would be able to run the sessions themselves with some preparation and shared visioning. So, we met to plan and prepare the session that they would bring to the CSOs and created this planning document to help the CSOs through the process of implementation.
On the day of the workshop, I kept in touch with my students and sure enough, they knocked it out of the ballpark, as I knew they would! This is our job as educators - to inspire our students so that they inspire others. It was powerful for me to realize that our work is truly never done. The students who presented in my place were two I had taught in 5th grade, coached robotics for when they were 7th graders, and started coding clubs with when they were in high school. They are now in college, and now we work side-by-side to be the change we want to see happen in our communities.

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, 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;  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!