Project Description

Inspiring Coding at The Middle School

Grant Number: 2017-10MS

Open to 900 Students with 2 Participating

Completed June 7th, 2018

Contact Teacher: Jeff Remington

The overall goal of this project was to promote coding in the Palmyra Middle School and to inspire students to code.

What We Did:

  • We created a “Coding Group” on Schoology and had over 200 students enrolled.
  • We had tech make the “Hopscotch” coding app available to students at the middle school. Hopscotch is a simple block coding program that allows students to create games and graphics through coding. We used Hopscotch because it was compatible with the 1:1 iPads. There was great student interest in Hopscotch, but more from the game playing end than the programming end, unfortunately.
  • We created a coding contest with (2) $50 Amazon gift cards for prizes. One for best line coding entry and one for best block coding entry.
PAMS Coding

For nearly a month, the contest was advertised on morning announcements, personal encouragement, by signage in the halls and via Schoology messaging. Unfortunately, only 2 students submitted coding projects. John Hinche received a $50 Amazon card for the best block code submission (A game) and Luke Boyer received a $50 Amazon card for the best line code project (an App) submission.

Although I was disappointed that there were not more student participants in the coding contest, the grant had major unintended benefits. It was discovered that there is essentially no regular, intentional, pervasive coding instruction k-8 in PASD. Students lacked an understanding of coding and the growth mindset (grit) needed to persevere through the challenge of coding. In addition, since coding is not a common shared k-8 classroom experience, there seemed to be a social stigma to want to code for the sake of learning independently. Students feared the unknown.

I also started a board approved “Girls Who Code” club and was disappointed by the low student enrollment (only 4 girls) after this too was heavily advertised. Again, I believe a lack of common coding experience and some coding “social stigma” may have deterred more participation. Since PA has 20,000 unfilled computer science jobs currently and little coding instruction in k-12 schools, this is/was concerning. The benefit of this discovery is that PASD now has planned coding classes in grades 4-8 in which all PASD students will get formal instruction in coding and in growth mindset skills to give students more opportunity to code and to experience the frustrations and joys of coding together.

A Personal Reflection How This Project Impacted Me as an Educator

I had the fortunate opportunity to be selected as one of ten National STEM Teacher Ambassadors this year and the only one from the Mid-Atlantic region. I was selected from 140 past White House Presidential teaching awardees who applied.  It was such an honor, privilege, and responsibility to take on this role. During my intense summer training for this in Washington, DC in June of 2017, I soon learned the great need for the STEM career field of Computer Scientist. In PA alone, 20,000 jobs are unfilled and most schools in PA and the US have little or no formal k-12 Computer Science classes. I saw this coding grant as a way to infuse coding into PASD even though I was uncertain how much coding was formally taught in the PASD at the time I applied for the grant. I had assumed coding was taught. As the school year ended and my grant “coding contest” submissions came in, I realized that PASD like many other schools across the country, did not have a solid, curricular based, universal coding experience for students k-8. That realization led to improvements, district wide, to incorporate Computer Science classes as part of each students regular learning experience.

As the 2017-2018 school year started, I submitted the PAEF coding grant and got to work on getting kids interested in coding. I set up a student coding group on Schoology, had tech load the coding program “Hopscotch” on the middle school iPads, and I encouraged students to code whenever there was any downtime.

In January, I had the great privilege of being a lead trainer for STEM Revolution. STEM Revolution (SR) is the world leader in International STEM Training for Ministries of Education all over the world. SR recruited me to help in making the United Arab Emirates the world leader in STEM by 2020 through education and country wide capital investment in STEM infrastructure and talent. As I write this, I have done 3 STEM training sessions in the UAE and also help them in developing ongoing STEM professional development for their teachers. STEM Revolution has given me an EV3 Robot ($600 value) and has allowed me to utilize their Computer Science training programs with my own students to help me grow as a teacher and trainer. SR continues to send me CS materials for my students to use! : )

Because of this unique opportunity, PASD administration supported my efforts to innovate in my Content Enrichment classes during the second semester to see what a Computer Science/STEM course might look like at the middle school. We provided formal instruction on Hopscotch and on coding with the EV3 Robot. The students rose to the occasion.  I have submitted two short videos along with this showing students in my content enrichment creating coding programs on Hopscotch and with the EV3 robot.

From this point, the district participated in the Carnegie Science Center’s Pathways to STEM excellence where we were able to do a STEM needs assessment and come up with a short and long term strategic plan to meet the STEM needs of our district, state and nation. In realizing that coding was a big need (in part due to this PAEF grant not going as planned), we now have a great starting point for coding starting in the 2018-2019 school year and a promising outlook to expand on that moving forward. This grant has been a classic example of “failing forward” so that even more than the original target audience of this grant can benefit indefinitely! I can say that this is the best $100 grant I have ever received in the scope of its long term impact, even though the grant itself did not meet my original intent.

Thank you PAEF! : )

Jeff Remington