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Expanding Computer Science with Physical Computing in Chicago with BootUp!

November 1 2022 · By Kambria Harris

What happens when you bring coding to the “City of Big Shoulders?”

No stranger to computer science, Chicago Public School (CPS) teachers had the opportunity to play all while learning coding principles! Elementary and middle school teachers experienced an engaging learning session back in early September with BootUp Professional Development (PD) facilitators, thanks to the renewed partnership with Amazon Future Engineer.

Teachers in Chicago were joined by members of the PD team, Laurie, Brenda, and Natalie, as they explored new concepts like algorithms, variables, and controls through Bee-Bots and micro:bits. The major highlight of the PD session was imagining what computer science in the classroom could look like with physical computing devices. The importance of going beyond the screen was emphasized as its important to involve students in active learning where they can expand their physical and mental knowledge structures.

Tools like Bee-Bots and micro:bits fosters student curiosity, critical thinking, and community while also teaching students to embrace failure and debug! Teachers could not only see the benefits of what they were experiencing through their interactions in PD, but they had the opportunity to engage with peers to come up with solutions to the problems they were trying to solve. One educator animatedly stated, “I loved it. I haven't been to a PD that I enjoyed in years!" Another teacher complimented the interactive style of the PD sessions, "I enjoyed the hands-on nature of the session. It made me feel more comfortable and confident with implementing a lesson right away."

Presenting CS education at an elementary level in Chicago is extremely important for the advancement of students. Giving young coders the resources and the opportunities they need to further their education in computer science and coding helps them stray away from adversities like crime, poverty, and other issues that occur in the lower-income areas of Chicago.

During the PD workshops, facilitators will work to equip PK-8 grade teachers to integrate computer science and computational thinking in their classrooms using the tools of block-based programming and physical computing. The goal is to provide enough preparation, so that by the time students graduate 8th grade, these integrated experiences and lessons will allow them to connect computer science to their other core areas of education, and computer science will be embedded into their academic identity.

The hours spent with CPS teachers included time to collaborate, problem solve, and think critically as they created mazes help them create capstone projects, learn how to use Scratch & Scratch Jr, and the BeeBots. They were also given tips on how to confidently apply these tactics to their lesson plans when teaching the K-8 students in the Chicago school districts.

It is so amazing to track the progress of the collaboration with Chicago Public Schools and BootUp + Amazon Future Engineer. So far, there are 90 participating teachers, over 25,000 impacted students, and the numbers are projected to grow tremendously every year.

chicago public schools
physical computing
bee bots

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