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Open letter: Middle school teacher, Laura Roberts, on what computer science meant to her students

map of Johnstown

Priority applications close soon for the Ohio’s next cohort of educators trained to teach Computer Science Discoveries and Computer Science Principles from Code.org. This program, delivered through the Ohio STEM Learning Network, is an intensive, year-long learning experience for middle and high school educators. Read on to learn how the program and course impacted students in Johnstown, Ohio and their teacher.

Laura Roberts headshotGreetings!

My name is Laura Roberts and I am a technology teacher at Northridge Middle School in Johnstown, Ohio. I have been teaching here for over four years. My licensure is in Business Education and covers a wide range of subject matter. Coming into my job, there had been an emphasis on programming, something that I was not fully comfortable with. In fact, I did not do so well in those courses as a college student. I began to adapt and modify the program so that it fit nicely inside of my comfortable wheelhouse.

In 2018, I attended a meeting where a colleague had mentioned Code.org. I was intrigued by the things they were saying and how much fun it was. The best part was my colleague had zero experience with programming. After that meeting, I began to research Code.org and saw that there was a summer workshop that was available for me to apply for. I decided to take a chance and applied. I was provided with the opportunity to participate in Battelle’s 2018-19 Professional Learning Program for Computer Science Discoveries in partnership with Code.org. As I embarked on this journey with trepidation and the feeling that I was unprepared for this experience, I quickly began to see that this journey was a shared experience of people with varying degrees of skills and abilities when it came to coding. In fact it was a journey of so much more than coding.

Priority application window for Ohio’s Code.org Professional Learning Program closes April 30
Learn more about the program’s schedule, expectations, and scholarship opportunities here. Apply here through the Code.org website.

The cohort is designed to support each educator on a journey that incorporates a method that I have come to love: lead learner. Lead learner is about taking a mindset and understanding that it is okay to not know the answers to everything, but instead it becomes a discovery process that connects students and teachers on the same learning pathway. While I understand how this method can be confusing or somewhat backwards, I have come to use this method in all of my classes, including the ones that do not involve coding. In fact, this method has empowered my students to take on teaching, mentor and leadership roles in a close classroom community that continues to develop every day.

The cohort itself is built with wonderful people from around the state that work together to learn the curriculum, but to also provide support. As educators, we talk about getting into PLNs, and let me tell you, this is by far the best PLN I have ever been part of. I know I can reach out to these colleagues for ideas and answers to questions. Code.org has done a fantastic job in creating forums for teachers to connect and communicate with one another. The curriculum that has been developed through Code.org encourages students to engage in 21st century skills, specifically dealing with the 4C’s: Creativity, Critical Thinking, Collaboration, and Communication. The curriculum has been developed for teachers to easily access lesson plans and resources that help guide the teachers to implement and teach the content in engaging formats.

Over the past four years, my classroom continues to evolve and change. Students have gone from not having any understanding of coding, to embracing the idea of coding and how it fits into their world. I have a particular student that would ask everyday the infamous question all teachers love to hear: “When will I ever need to use this?” Code.org has embraced this question by bringing real world connections to the programs so that students can see how coding is used in everyday life.

In fact, that very student came to me almost at the close of the course and told me that his family had just purchased some new farming equipment. You see, our school is very agricultural based, and this student was very much enriched in this world. I was intrigued by him sharing the new purchase with me and I knew how much it meant to him to talk about it. As the conversation unfolded, he then told me that the new farming equipment came with a program that allowed a farmer to plot out their field and program the equipment to do the planting. The student was so excited because he had learned fundamental aspects of coding that allowed him to understand the new farming equipment and be able to share that with his family so that they could prepare for planting season without delaying the process.

Right then and there a connection was realized and it brought a deeper meaning to what Code.org is providing. My students are not just learning skills to code, they are learning skills that allow them to work with their interests and passions, all while supporting each student at their learning level as they journey to their futures.

tractor tilling field

As a final note, Code.org has allowed me to build a rapport with my students that connects us in developing basic human principles of empathy and equity. This program brings awareness and empowerment to educators and students.

Now is the time to join in inspiring students with their passions and interests as Computer Science continues to grow and connect with students.

Sincerely,
Laura Roberts

Map of Johnstown, Ohio via Google Maps

Tractor Image by David Jenne from Pixabay

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