Computer Science in the City - Elementary Coding at PS 134
July 7 2021 · By Karen Melara
We talk a lot about perseverance and the desire to move past perfectionism into real creativity. In this one school situated in the city that never sleeps, we see this embodied in students eager to learn new skills and teachers coaching them forward. Thanks to the Robin Hood Learning + Technology Fund, BootUp PD and WeTeach_CS have been able to bring coding to PS 134 in District 1, New York City, where Dana Miller and Suzanne Panagiotidis have just completed their first year of coding while simultaneously tackling hybrid teaching. That doesn't stop them from getting their hands dirty by integrating coding into their class day, including mixing both art and games for a unique learning experience.
While Suzanne juggles being a mom and hybrid instructor, her kids soon enough become her students, and the ScratchJr lessons begin without missing a beat. The incredible adaptability of students and their eagerness to learn is palpable. As Suzanne explains, students almost immediately start remixing their projects and experimenting with Scratch characters to create their own stories and games, through code. Her first year juggling multiple roles as a science teacher and newly named instructional coach; Suzanne doesn't hesitate in accepting the challenge of a new language, and enjoys working and solving the puzzle of how to code a game in ScratchJr.
Stepping into the art class of PS 134, Dana Miller is leading the way of collaborative school lessons and creative gaming. A little hesitant at first, Dana broke down a couple of BootUp ScratchJr coding lessons for herself and the class. Once she felt confident enough to take it to the next level, together with her students, Dana spun off her own ideas to create a PacMan and Super Mario-style game in ScratchJr.
At first, students were more confident in their coding ability and handed the drawing section to Dana. While the characters were being developed, the class started out with the actual sequence of the code. One by one, the students and Dana planned out each step that the characters were required to take. Once the students saw how easy it was to manipulate the sprites in ScratchJr, they quickly picked up the drawing part themselves.
Both Dana and Suzanne provided space for their students to work collaboratively, and jump right in to encourage each other, allowing a continuous feedback loop. Their students are just as eager to leap into the new project, to give advice to their peers, and debug projects while providing new thoughts on making their projects even better. There's a shout from the back, "Kids don't have mustaches!" Sometimes students disagree, and that's alright. Both teachers enjoy learning right alongside their kids, to understand that it's okay to not know everything, and to be okay with going through bumps along the way.
When it comes to diversity and inclusion, Dana ensures her curriculum is representative of her classroom and their interests. She wants to make sure her students have diverse experiences, as well as feel safe and included in everything she does. She takes a lot of input from students, and allows herself to be in a position of vulnerability and acceptance. However, one of the more significant challenges was the matter of including students in her hybrid class. She was adamant about ensuring that her lessons and activities could be translated to the virtual classroom.
Apart from in-school students’ objections about not being able to paint, her first priority was to ensure that the experience didn't differ for her virtual students, and that each student had access to what they needed from home. Dana commented, "We all have to work together to make sure everybody has the same experience. It's important for them to learn that you have to think about other people and make sure that other people are included and you're not leaving other people behind for what you want."
Looking forward to the next school year, as students step back into the classroom, Dana and Suzanne are excited to work right alongside their early learners with new and stimulating projects in Scratch and ScratchJr. A new school year brings new opportunities, and for PS 134, the fun with coding has just begun.
Teacher Highlight - Dana and Suzanne
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