Ask a teacher: What are trainings really like?

Can a language arts teacher lead a computer science class? That’s a definite “yes,” says Renee Coley. Last fall, the veteran language arts teacher at Hannah Ashton Middle School (HAMS) in Reynoldsburg, Ohio, participated in a weekend of computer science training through and, in January, started teaching a pilot CS course to students at her school. She says that ongoing sharing with other CS teachers and extensive lesson plans from are helping her along the way.

Headshot of Renee Coley
Renee Coley, language arts teacher at Hannah Ashton Middle School, tells us about her computer science training with

To expand on the pilot Coley completed, later this year — in partnership with Battelle and the Ohio STEM Learning Network — will offer more extensive CS training to Ohio teachers. For details, visit our previous post.

And, to find out more about Coley’s training and her new experience of teaching computer science to middle schoolers, we asked her a few questions:

Q: Why did you take the computer science teacher training? Do you have a computer science background?

A: About this time last year, my principal, Jamie Wilson, sent an email to a few of us in the building containing information on how to apply to become a pilot teacher for a curriculum that was developing for middle school. I jumped at the chance. I had done’s “Hour of Code” with my students for two years and saw their engagement and excitement. A semester or year-long computer science class is something I knew many of my students would love to have.

I do not have a computer science background. I am a grade 1-through-8 certified elementary teacher. I’ve spent 25 years teaching mostly language arts. I fell into the computer science world when my husband, a teacher at eSTEM Academy in Reynoldsburg, helped to start a FIRST Robotics team in 2011, and it became a family affair with our oldest son being on the team the first three years and our youngest son currently in his third year on the team.

Last year, I helped to start Vex Robotics at Hannah Ashton Middle School through an after-school club for 5th- through 8th-graders.

Q: Where and when did you take the training? How was it paid for?

A: Our training took place November 11-13 in Tempe, Arizona. paid for everything (airfare, hotel, VISA card for meals) except for the substitute teacher I needed for Friday, November 11.

Q: Which training session did you take, and what did the training consist of? Are “refresher” lessons provided?

A: I went through the training pilot for CS Discoveries (for middle school) Units 1-3 (there are 6 total). We went through each lesson of the units, taught some of the lessons in groups, and discussed our commitment as teachers of the course.

Image of students
Coley: “The first few lessons for the CS Discoveries class involve an aluminum boat design challenge. The purpose is to introduce the design cycle and design thinking.”

From now until June, we are participating in weekly Google+ meetings with a cohort, communicating information about our lessons on a forum, and posting details about one lesson of our choice per week on the forum.

If I end up teaching this course next year as a year-long course, I have the opportunity to take the training on the entire course again to learn about Units 4-6. Trainings are free, and there will be one offered to teachers in Ohio.

Q: Did the training adequately prepare you to teach this subject, and are any lesson plans or other teaching materials provided by How many students are you teaching, and what has been their reaction/feedback?

A: As you can imagine, the 2 1/2 days of training were a whirlwind! We worked from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Friday and Saturday and from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. Sunday. I did feel adequately prepared, but I also knew that the forum and weekly Google+ meeting would be there for me. The team is also unbelievably supportive and responsive to any questions or feedback.

Every lesson plan for each unit is included. The lesson plans are incredible.
I started teaching Unit 1 on January 11 to 20 students. I’ve shared everything with my class — my training, the fact that this is a pilot. They’ve seen the lesson plans, they give me feedback and we talk about the lessons. They are completely on board with the whole thing. So far, they are loving it and looking forward to their lessons on coding websites and making apps.

Q: If you could, would you change anything about the training? Would you recommend it to other middle school teachers?

Image of student using a computer
Coley: “The students then use the design cycle to solve some problems: a seating chart at a birthday party and (above) a road trip. Students work within the constraints of a 7-day round trip and only $300 gas money to create a vacation. The purpose is real-world practice with the design cycle of define-prepare-try-reflect.”

A: I would change nothing about the training. It was an incredible experience, and I felt valued and respected as a teacher and facilitator. I would absolutely recommend anything has to offer to any teacher. Period.

Q: Is there anything else you would like to share about the training or the experience of teaching computer science?

A: I think that some teachers feel like they don’t know enough to teach computer science — especially teachers like me, who have been around awhile and who didn’t grow up in a computer world.

I’m proof that anyone can teach computer science. I have learned some programming through and other concepts through my trainings, but I absolutely expect to learn right along with the students. I tell my students that I will not always have the answer, and we might have to try, reflect and then try again many times throughout the course. The lessons and website make it easy for anyone to teach computer science.

Editor’s note: The pilot training Ms. Coley used a different schedule than the current program. Please see the announcement post for the detailed schedule.


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