Tech & Learning: Innovative Science Program at 217 HelpS Students Identify and Solve Real-World Problems
CONNECTING TEACHERS WITH SUPPORT
AND EDTECH RESOURCES
Sixth-grade PS/IS 217 students work on paper circuits and research information for their computing/biome projects.
Posters are talking, circuit lights are blinking, and students are busy making, coding, and researching in Emily Wong’s sixth-grade science classroom at PS/IS 217 on Roosevelt Island (NYC). The students, as well the biomes they’re creating, are buzzing with energy.
And suddenly the overarching goal, to “make sure every NYC student can build something digital that has meaning for them,” seems achievable. Cornell Tech, a graduate institution with a focus on creating pioneering leaders and technologies for the digital age, is setting out to help accomplish this goal through connecting teachers with the support and resources they need. They’re partnering with the NYC DOE, CSNYC, and more than a dozen schools, and their innovative Teacher-in-Residence (TIR) program is aligned to New York City’s Computer Science for All initiative (CS4All), a 10-year effort to train 5,000 teachers to teach CS.
Since the beginning of the 2016–17 school year, Meg Ray, a Cornell Tech Teacher-in-Residence, has been “providing content coaching, curriculum consultation, and professional development on a weekly basis for teachers in all grades” at PS/IS 217, where principal Mandana Beckman is committed to incorporating CS instruction into every classroom in grades K–8.
Meg Ray, the Cornell Tech Teacher-in-Residence at PS/IS 217, works with both students and teachers to build a comprehensive approach to Computer Science education.
A TEACHER MODELS THE LEARNING PROCESS
“We have just started working with the middle school on CS integration in their science classes,” Ray says. “The goal is to deepen understanding of both subjects by building on prior CS experiences to support synthesis of new science content.” Ray sat down with science teacher Emily Wong in December, and they co-designed a computing project to complement her existing sixth-grade unit on ecosystems. Wong has never taught coding or CS, and Ray, a former classroom teacher herself, appreciates that Wong is “open to collaborating and modeling the learning process for her students.”
A screenshot of the type of Scratch program that PS/IS 217 sixth graders will create for their ecology unit.
This project, a light-up, talking poster about biomes, combines “making with paper circuits, coding in Scratch, and physical computing with Makey Makey.” The students had attended community events held by Cornell Tech introducing making and paper circuits, so Ray knew that “bringing this type of hands-on work into the classroom would build on prior knowledge and be highly motivating.” The students feel at home with the technology and find the curriculum both “rigorous and fun.” As they build knowledge and confidence they’ll move on to more advanced projects, Ray says, such as “creating animations or programs that control robots” using Raspberry Pis and data collected with sensors.
Ray knows that “it can be intimidating to teach a new subject, especially one that involves learning brand-new content.” Teachers at PS/IS 217 are collaborating and applying pedagogy from other subjects to find the most effective ways to teach this new content. “Not many schools are incorporating computer science instruction to this degree yet,” Ray says, “so we’re iterating and debugging our lessons every day, just like we’re teaching the students to debug their code.”
A UNIVERSAL LANGUAGE
Ray recently witnessed the various strands of this work—CS learning, instruction, and collaboration—connect. Two ELLs and two native English speakers, placed in a group to work on the computing/biome project, were concerned about how they would work together. All four of these students, Ray says, “have been able to collaborate and contribute in meaningful ways. One reason is that electric circuits work the same way for everyone. Their language is universal.” Coding is similar. Although Scratch is based on English, “the code blocks also have distinct shapes and colors that can give students cues.” They’re also able to access tools like Google Translate on the computer they have on hand for the project “to communicate and access the same information about their research topic in their own primary languages,” Ray says. And so the energy for learning, in this classroom and many others throughout the city, continues to flow.
TOOLS THEY USE PS 217
► Code & Go Robot Mouse
► Dash & Dot Robots
► Document cameras
► Makey Makey
► Raspberry Pis
► Touchscreen boards