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Why This English-Trained Teacher Decided to Teach Her Students Coding

2016 Coding EdTech Education Technology LocoRobo Middle School Robotics STEAM STEM Tech Technology

Part 1 of 2 by Renee Di Pietro, Gifted Support Teacher, Penn-Delco School District

By the time a student is graduating middle school, they most likely will not have had one single coding lesson throughout their middle school education -- for 2016 this is just short of crazy!

This summer I offered to teach an Intro to Coding course for middle school students. Our registration resulted with half a small lab filled with eager students from 5th through 8th grade. Two students had heard of HTML. Mostly it is always a blank slate when I venture into coding with middle school students, which is why I do it. 

My dream for schools throughout our state is that every student will have at least one coding class by the time they graduate 8th grade. In 2020 it is estimated that there will be an employee shortage for computer programmers in the U.S.: “There will be 1.4 million computing jobs available in 2020, but only 400,000 computer-science graduates from U.S. universities to fill them.” Secondly, only 12% of computer-science degrees go to women. As a teacher, and especially as a female teacher, I never could ignore these two facts and do nothing.

Coding and Robotics Educator 

When we venture into coding or the sciences, I find myself returning to my favorite websites of Code for Good for extended review tutorials and Hour of Code and Thimble for student lesson projects. I often need to refresh my coding skills because I am a certified English teacher, not a tech teacher. Bringing technology into my classroom was an easy decision. I feel this is absolutely necessary for some of them. Today I am also known as a tech teacher without the certificate because I make sure my middle school students are being exposed to activities, careers and speakers that give them experiences and voices from the computer sciences world.

Little by little you learn where you can alter certain lessons and certain projects. You can expand and use cross curricular connections and materials to give your students a variety of entry ways into the same unit and objectives. Some will come at it through the readings, writings and videos (verbal learners) and some will get it when they are building, creating or dissecting the patterns (logical learners). This is why I am a STEAM-infused, technology-obsessed teacher now. We watch TED talks, Vsauce, and MinutePhysics videos regularly in between projects or in support of unit objectives. I created a diversified curriculum that includes presentations from local resources and programs like LocoRobo’s LocoSummer and YEA (Young Entrepreneurs Academy) programs that will teach my students some of the most important tech skills that they can get their hands on throughout the summer.

When I was asked why have I gone this path in my classroom, I realized that bringing technology into my classroom has helped me internalize my ultimate goal of creating a growth mindset for each of my students.

When I started four years ago at my school, I was working up four different curriculums for my district for gifted students in secondary education. The more I got to know my population and the needs of secondary education students in general, the more I saw the need for all students, especially females, to know more about the computer sciences, and be exposed to experiences in coding, engineering, robotics, and being a “maker”. There was only one real solution for this, I had to become one myself and find excellent resources to make up for the gaps. I’m fortunate that as a beginner, it seems that everyone and everything out there in STEAM is waiting to help educators and excited to be asked. LocoRobo became apart of that for me this year and I know they can be a great resource for others who are ready. If you are an educator, believe me, you and your student are ready. Technology in no way replaces good teaching, and that’s why you need to know where to do it and how. Some educators are hesitant to make the dive. From one English-teacher-turned-tech-nerd, you’re probably more ready than you even know.

Stay tuned for Part 2 "Technology In the Classroom Helps Students To Become Risk Takers and Develop A Growth Mindset" 

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