“Mrs. Mead’s Magic Seeds of Coding and Learning” - Tami Brass

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We warmly welcome guest blogger, Tami Brass, Director of Instructional Technology for St. Paul Academy and Summit School in St. Paul Minnesota. Tami has been teaching for over 20 years, having worked with diverse students in several school districts. She is an Authorized Google Education Trainer, and Apple Distinguished Educator, and a member of the Computer Science Teacher’s Association. She is a frequent presenter at conferences and workshops.

UnknownRE@L has addressed coding on this blog previously. We are grateful for Ms. Brass’s insights on real-world coding in the classroom. She also tells us a story on how great teachers influence students who, later, can be great teachers themselves. Here’s her story on “Coding.”

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BasicCodingIn 1982, I was a student in Mrs. Mead’s 7th grade math class. As a new teacher and probably the only female secondary math teacher in our rural Wisconsin district at the time, she was pretty adventurous. Somehow she managed to get a couple of Radio Shack TRS-80s in the room adjacent to her classroom, and, like many teachers in the 80s, she used computers as enrichment/incentive for students who finished their work early.

Four of my classmates and I practically lived in the space. (I was the only girl in the group, but that’s another story…) We learned the BASIC programming language from magazines, typing code and tweaking to see what would happen. There was no direct tie to our math curriculum – no standards that needed to be met, no test to pass, no assessment other than squeals of delight when things went as well as we’d hoped.

I have to be honest – now, a teacher who uses technology myself, I’ve not kept up with coding. In the mid 1990s I taught alternative students HTML coding to get them reading and writing, and years later I worked with kids interested in webpage design. While there was no curricular tie, it was always a carrot, a hook, a way to engage learners to pursue something more deeply. In my teaching, it wasn’t for every child, just an option for those who were interested or curious.

imagesBy 2013, when the first “Hour of Code” initiative happened, I was working to explore bringing a computer science curriculum to my school. Like countless other schools around the world, we hosted Hour of Code. I was amazed to have over 50 students (total enrollment in our middle school was under 250 at the time) arrive at school an hour early to participate.

We had a great cross-section of our middle-schoolers along with a cadre of supportive parents so engaged that we made it a monthly event. When we polled our students, even more said they were doing the Hour of Code activities/tutorials on their own time outside of school. We also did a coding unit in our 6th grade technology course.  (Click on the graphic above to learn more about Hour of Code.) 

Some coding benefits I’ve seen:

  • Promotes kids to FGRTOT (figure it out) without adult intervention – it’s a start to self-efficacy and independence.
  • Encourages what’s called Moonshot Thinking (watch this video!) – full of forward thinking without boundaries or filters getting in the way
  • Improved understanding of technology kids are already using
  • Preparation for future career paths, including some which may not yet exist

ICSTA_logof you’re wondering how computer science fits into your classrooms, CSTA (Computer Science Teachers Association) has created K-12_CSS_thumbCrosswalks  (Click on graphics on the right and left to learn more) that map their computer science standards to a variety of K12 standards many of us are already using in our practice, including Common Core, Mathematics, and STEM.  Some obvious multi-discipline fits are computational thinking in mathematics, digital storytelling in English/Language Arts, and design of simulations across the sciences.

We’ve now added a computer science strand to our K-5 science curriculum and are working to integrate it into our 6-9 science program. The wide base of participation and engagement resulting from our Hour of Code activities demonstrated both the interest level and ability of our students to explore computer science.

I’m excited to see this initiative come to fruition and see how it evolves. I often wonder if Mrs. Mead knows what she started all those years ago! A few seeds planted have born fruit for many decades later.

Here are links to some of my Coding Resources:

Our Hour of Code Symbaloo page

Coding with Kids Symbaloo 

My TIES 2014 Conference Slideshow Presentation: Computer Science: Engage at an Early Age

Editors Note: You can follow Tami Brass at her website; click here: Tech4Teaching

 “Let’s plant more seeds.”

If you have any questions or comments for Tami or for us, click on the globe below.

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Tom King & Dale LaFrenz

Dr. Tom King has served for over 40 years as an Adjunct Professor at the University of Saint Thomas in the School of Education. The Saturn School of Tomorrow, formerly a St. Paul Public School, and his visionary response to educational reform, was a lighthouse on the frontier of school change. Tom was an experienced high school teacher of mathematics, a school administrator, and Director of Technology for the St. Paul MN Public Schools. He is also a member of the RE@L Team. Dr. Dale LaFrenz is Chairman of RE@L and one of the founders of MECC Software who brought “Oregon Trail” to millions of K12 kids everywhere. He has written extensively on the history and evolution of Ed Tech. His work in forging new paths for MECC’S “edutainment" software was instrumental in connecting school-markets, kids, teachers and consumer-markets/kids/parents, and now serves as the new launching pad for RE@L apps and software.

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