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Open letter: How computer science helped Nancy Hamper’s students thrive

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Nancy Hamper of Jefferson Area Local School District wrote to us about her experience with Computer Science Discoveries, one of the computer science opportunities open now.

My experience as a Code.org cohort member has been wonderful. I have taught in Virginia, Kentucky, and Ohio since I started teaching in 1992. I have taught self contained 5th grade, and math at the middle and high school levels. I have always had an interest in technology, and would help out whenever I could with technology needs, such as teacher training, hardware setup, or software installation.

“My teaching practice has changed, I find that I am less at the front of the class in ‘instructor’ mode, and I am more beside the students in ‘coaching’ mode.”

Because of my passion for technology, and experience at prior schools, the district where I currently teach hired me in 2005 to teach computer science to grades 7-12. It was at that time that I went back to school online and got my K-12 technology endorsement. I continued teaching at the high school until 2012. I taught some basic WebDesign classes, computer applications classes, and a Visual Basic coding class.

“This was one of the best organized, teacher-led, hands-on, and applicable training sessions I’ve attended.”

In 2012 budget cuts caused some shuffling of staff that moved me back to a self-contained 5th grade classroom. While teaching 5th grade I would have my students participate in the Hour of Code week that Code.org promoted in December around Admiral Grace Murray Hopper’s birthday. Aside from that week in December, there was little to no time in the elementary schedule to squeeze in time for extra lessons in computer science. In the fall of 2020 I found myself back teaching grades 7-12. The high school CS teacher in my old position retired, and there were no applicants for the job. Needless to say, I was feeling the stress of changing buildings, grade levels, and curriculums, all in the middle of a pandemic with the numerous guidelines and restrictions now required due to COVID.

My experience in the Battelle/Code.org Professional Learning Program was a refreshing surprise. I am more of an in person, hands-on learner, and this was going to be a week-long virtual training. I feared it would be taught by Code.org software professionals; they would likely be too technical to understand, and not have any experience actually teaching it to young kids. I have attended numerous professional development sessions since I started teaching in 1992, and I have to say that this was one of the best organized, teacher-led, hands-on, and applicable training sessions I’ve attended. The teacher/facilitators led us through sections of the actual curriculum in the roles of both teacher and student. In one week they had built up my confidence and understanding, and had me ready to start the school year with a brand new curriculum.

Computer Science Opportunities
These programs are eligible for the OSLN Travel Grant.
OSLN K-5 Discoveries (Middle school) Principles (High School) CS A (High school)
K-5 application Apply on Code.org

The cohort community offers support through a teacher forum where you can conduct a search for specific topics, or ask questions. The teachers within the cohort stay connected through a messaging app, and through email connections. These teachers offer support, share ideas, and resources.

Since I’ve completed this cohort my teaching practice has changed, I find that I am less at the front of the class in ‘instructor’ mode , and I am more beside the students in ‘coaching’ mode. It took a while for me to adjust to this method. With this style of teaching the students have really started to take more ownership of their learning, and feel more comfortable asking questions, working with their peers, and being problem solvers.

I have enjoyed teaching with the CS Discoveries curriculum. The lessons are well developed, concise, and easy to follow. Each lesson offers flexibility for differentiation as well as extensions and challenge problems for students who excel. The lessons also provide extensive opportunities for teamwork and collaboration among the students, which I feel is so important in preparing students for future success. I have one student in particular who has had success especially with teamwork. He has a speech impediment, and is usually very quiet and shy and doesn’t talk much, but now has found his niche with CS Discoveries. I made him my first assistant (#1) and when the students realized how good he was, they all wanted him to be their partner or in their group. He is no longer a quiet shy kid in my class, he is a leader. All of my classes look forward to seeing his projects, and he is currently working on coding a chess game that has thousands of lines of code.

There are wonderful teacher resources available with the Code.org curriculum. Student activity guides, rubrics, and slide decks that can all be edited to fit specific needs. There are also videos that explain various elements and concepts of the lessons, as well as videos to get the students motivated and excited to learn.

The course really emphasizes equity in computer science. In small groups, we examined and shared ideas on how we could create classrooms that felt welcome to all, and how we could recruit more girls, or students of minorities to take computer science.Throughout the summer workshop and the Saturday workshops there was a focus on how to incorporate lessons that modeled women or minorities as computer scientists. Information was also shared on how to apply for grants to start STEM programs for girls, and encourage participation.

The Battelle/Code.org cohort has been an enjoyable experience. I have expressed to my administrators my satisfaction with the program, and I have suggested it to colleagues. I am currently signed up to take another cohort training with Code.org, the CS Principles course. I will learn some more advanced levels of coding curriculum to offer students in the future.

Nancy Hamper

nancy.hamper@jalsd.org

Jefferson Area Local School District

Computer Science Opportunities
These programs are eligible for the OSLN Travel Grant.
OSLN K-5 Discoveries (Middle school) Principles (High School) CS A (High school)
K-5 application Apply on Code.org

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