Creating a Purposeful Environment for #CSforAll

makerEarlier this year, I had the pleasure of being a part of two pivotal moments. The first was visiting Microsoft’s “Education Underground” and getting a tour of their “Garage”, an extensive makerspace for Microsoft’s employees to tinker and build. Weeks later, the second moment was being invited to the White House during #CSEdweek, to an event created to bridge educators with developers, creating platforms to help teachers teach and learn more computer science. It was at this event that US CTO Megan Smith, walked in with “tools of making” and challenged us to think not just about coding alone but about building computational thinking which could be done beautifully through making.

In the months after both of those events, I decided to learn as much as possible about purposeful coding/making. I took courses online and I mean that I took everything from CS50 (an amazing MOOC taught by a Harvard Professor) to courses on web design, CSS and Python from Code Academy and General Assembly’s Dash platform. I also went to Raspberry Pi Academy and brought in code.org to train all of our grades 3-5 teachers…twice. I bought books. I read “Invent to Learn” and explored everything that I could find about Standford’s FabLearn and MIT’s Fab Lab.

I also made wearables, an auto-tweeting bear and got involved with our high school’s First Robotics team.


Then, I went back to my roots…Braeden. I remembered his desire to create animatronic puppets but giving up on the idea because neither he nor I knew how to do it at the time. Of course, that has changed now but I wonder how many kids can’t envision creating something through coding or making because they did not have the access, materials or time to do it.

This summer, I am facilitating two weeks of making for our students. The first will take place in June and the second in July. Our goal is to reach 150 students, providing them all a raspberry pi and certain students a Microsoft Microbit. We’ll be coding, but we’ll be doing much more than that. The kids will apply STEAM concepts to create tangible projects. They’ll be using anything from scratch or Microsoft’s Touch Develop to python and even C++. We’ll teach them to not just code but to do so with purpose.

Beyond these two weeks, we are also preparing to support these programs on all campuses moving forward. Like Microsoft’s Garage, every kid should have access to design, build and code. They should also have the choice as to how they do it. Our role is and should be to make sure that they have the pathway to learn and apply. Application of the learning matters.

At the same token, so does exposure.

Had I not gone to the Microsoft Underground and engaged in the most thorough makerspace that I’ve ever seen, I’m not sure that I would have realized the impact on what such access could be on our kids. Had I not experienced Megan Smith, almost begging that we didn’t view coding as an “end”, I’m not sure that I would have thought beyond getting kids on code.org. I certainly would not have planned these camps because I would never have taken the extensive steps that I did to learn first.

We’re starting at a good point to change computer science in our district but we have so much more to do because giving kids the exposure and space to learn and apply doesn’t matter if we don’t fully expand our high school computer science offerings beyond being only a 3rd/4th year math class. As much as I agree with CS counting for math, it is also bothersome that kids won’t get to take CS until Junior Year in this system. Knowing as many CS majors as I do now, it’s kind of odd.

Understanding where you want to go with #CSforAll is just as, if not more, important than starting.

I say all of this to say that if we only do “drag and drop coding” and never think beyond that to applying these concepts with purpose, what’s the point? Also, how do we determine what this purpose is? What role do students play? How are we making sure that there is continuity in learning if kids want it?

One more thing…

How do we make sure that the kids who get to apply their learning aren’t only our gifted or affluent kids? It would be a shame if kids of poverty only got code.org lessons while everyone else gets to go beyond that.

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