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One Teacher Can Make All The Difference With Computer Science

June 29 2021 · By Karen Melara

This school year has been anything but ordinary. A global pandemic swept through our lives, disrupting it with unprecedented consequences. We were once again reminded of the inequities our students face at home and in their communities. Yet, for the first time in a long time, we couldn't find the answers our students were asking us about the future of the classroom. And in the midst of all this, one superhero teacher reassured her class that it's OK to not be OK, and coding in the classroom could be a new and stress-free way to get through the days of uncertainty.

In a rural town outside of Denver and 133 miles from Colorado Springs sits the district of Cheyenne Wells. At the Cheyenne Wells Elementary school, we find 5th and 6th grade ELA teacher Ashton Mitchek. Ashton has over 10 years of experience teaching young students and has recently started integrating computer science education into her classroom. Thanks to BootUp PD, Cheyenne Wells was able to bring computer science education to the district.

With little experience and some help from Brenda Bass at BootUp PD, Ashton was able to kick start computer science in the classroom and get students excited about coding. A mixed class setting that possesses students with special needs, while working off of an already unique situation, Ashton encourages an environment of inclusivity and constructive feedback that motivates her students to continuously improve. Full of empathy and hope, her students create a culture of constant help - a process they coined "Grow & Glow." So whether her students are learning sentence structure or making a sprite move, each student encourages the other while providing constructive feedback.

As a result, students who traditionally struggle in other subject areas see success with coding and even get a little boost of confidence when other students cheer them on. Thanks to this safe-to-fail environment, one particular student, Salem Crain, lights up when computer science is brought into the classroom. You wouldn't know it from his shy demeanor, but Salem has become a wiz with code. His passion grew once he was able to apply his love for video games to the world of code.

Learning first with Scratch and quickly advancing to Microsoft's MakeCode. His enthusiasm took him all the way to enter a newly created game - Maze Breaking - into his 5th-grade science fair project. The game's objective was for students and adults to make their way through a maze, thus starting the battle of the ages, to see which group finished each level first. After seeing the success of his first game, Salem quickly thought up new ideas for future games. His natural curiosity led him to advance his skills and hopes to one day become a game engineer when he grows up. Salem's story is just one of many students who have found the ability to express themselves through code and build confidence in the process.

salem - cheyenne wells

No one could have imagined how the school year would have played out. Still, thanks to teachers like Ashton, her classroom could flourish and build on the culture of inclusivity. She provided the space where students can begin to think with a growth mindset and become comfortable with feedback and failure from an early age.

It's OK not to know everything. That builds a great culture of learning and one where every student feels a part of doing what feels good to them and builds confidence that transcends subject areas. For this one district outside of Denver, Colorado, one teacher is making all the difference.

At BootUp, we strive to provide those safe and diverse environments for districts that allow students to express themselves with code. We love hearing about classroom cultures and success stories like Salem.

If you have a story to share, please contact karen@bootuppd.org.

Student Highlight - Salem Crain

Cheyenne Wells
Computer Science

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