By Sarah Hampton
In a former post, I wrote about a site I discovered while exploring the 2016 Stem for All Videohall called Bootstrap.
Bootstrap designs curricula that meaningfully integrate rigorous computer science concepts into more mainstream subjects such as math and science. Developed with the help of Brown, WPI, and Northeastern, Bootstrap has backing from several major players including Google, Microsoft, and the National Science Foundation. If that isn't enough to pique your interest, initial research shows that Bootstrap is one of the only computer science curriculums that demonstrates measurable transfer to algebra, specifically on functions, variables, and word problems. (Wright, Rich, & Lee, 2013 and Schanzer, Fisler, Krishnamurthi, & Felleisen, 2015)
Recently at our school, Sullins Academy, the middle school math teachers (including myself) and the schoolwide technology teacher met to discuss and coordinate implementation of Bootstrap's algebra curriculum for our eighth graders. The curriculum combines principles of mathematics and programming as students create their own simple video game. Before the meeting, we independently worked through the first unit which included dissecting the parts of a video game, relating the coordinate plane to positioning, relating the order of operations to program evaluation, and planning our own basic video game. After talking about our reactions to unit one, we worked through unit two, distinguishing data types used by programs and writing functions to manipulate them, as a group.
After working through the first two units, we knew Bootstrap was something we wanted to try with our students for three main reasons:
So we knew we wanted to implement Bootstrap, but we still had a big question: when and through what class (math or technology) would this be taught? Similar to most cross-curricular projects, there would be difficulty meeting standards organically for both classes. We decided to implement the curriculum predominantly through the technology class with crossovers in the eighth grade math classes as they naturally arise. (I am lucky to work in a school where we are encouraged to work across classes. Flexibility and collaboration are two of my favorite things about our school.)
Now that we have a plan in place, we are all really excited about the potential learning outcomes. We hope it shows students that math and technology do not exist in individual bubbles and that standards are not just isolated facts to memorize or know for a test. All subjects and content are integrated in real life for authentic purposes. The technology teacher hopes that this will make students realize that programming is within their grasp. It’s not this abstract, crazy, no-way-I-can-do-it sort-of-thing thing. Even if students don’t program again, the technology teacher hopes that it helps with troubleshooting abilities and independence. In addition, she hopes it will motivate students to improve their typing skills and realize why attention to detail is important, for example, when they see that even one missing parenthesis or misspelled word will break the program. Beyond the obvious desire for students to better understand algebra, the math teachers hope it allows students to see that math is really useful beyond the classroom. Most importantly, we hope working on Bootstrap displaces the teacher and puts the students at the center of the learning by improving metacognition and developing perseverance as they work through their error messages. In this way, students might grow out of the teacher-dependent mentality and learn to trust and rely on themselves and each other.
Keeping it real, we are concerned about a few things as well. It was interesting to see our reactions to the curriculum because the technology teacher has ample programming experience, I only have some, and the third teacher has no former experience. This was a fortunate coincidence because it represents the spectrum of prior knowledge our students will have as well. Overall, Bootstrap provides enough scaffolding for any previous exposure to programming as long as you are comfortable with a “learn as you go” approach, although occasionally, it did seem as if Bootstrap made an optimistic assumption about what students would know coming in. For those with no prior experience, we would have liked more direct instruction on key vocabulary, syntax requirements, and reading and diagnosing error messages. Another concern is keeping all students engaged for the length of the project. Undoubtedly, some students will be able to fly through the curriculum while others need a bit more time. We hope the answer to this problem lies in offering the extensions Bootstrap has built in for quick learners.
Overall, we are really looking forward to seeing what Bootstrap can do for our students. Our plan is in place so may the adventure continue! I will keep you posted.
Have any of you implemented Bootstrap or another computer science curriculum like Logo or Scratch? Did you see transfer to math or science? What advantages did you notice? Are there any obstacles you can help us navigate? We would love to learn from you!
Citations and Further Reading
Schanzer, E., Fisler, K., Krishnamurthi, S., & Felleisen, M. (2015). Transferring Skills at Solving Word Problems from Computing to Algebra Through Bootstrap, ACM Technical Symposium on Computer Science Education, 2015.
Wright, G., Rich, P. & Lee, R. (2013). The Influence of Teaching Programming on Learning Mathematics. In R. McBride & M. Searson (Eds.), Proceedings of SITE 2013--Society for Information Technology & Teacher Education International Conference (pp. 4612-4615). New Orleans, Louisiana, United States: Association for the Advancement of Computing in Education (AACE).
Center for Computational Thinking at Carnegie Mellon.
By Pati Ruiz
The timing of this year’s STEM For All Video Showcase worked well for me as a teacher. It allowed me to see something right when I was starting to evaluate my curriculum and prepare for next year. During the 2017-18 school year, I will be teaching two high school computer science courses: one is an introductory course for Sophomores and the other is a new (for me) intermediate course for Juniors. Due to time constraints, our school schedule will not allow me to offer the AP Computer Science Principles course. Instead, I am designing a curriculum that’s appropriate for my students. I am excited about the content and hope it will be engaging for them.
As I watched the videos in the showcase, the EarSketch: teaching coding through music video presented by Lea Ikkache and Jason Freeman really captured my attention, or, dare I say it - caught my ear. As I read through the discussion thread, I learned quite a bit from the comments. I learned that there is a community of CS educators who are now using EarSketch, and even a Facebook group where the community can discuss the curriculum and share their materials and tips. The curriculum is aligned with the AP CSP standards currently, and the team is looking to align to CSTA standards in the future! Among other topics, students will learn to use variables, loops, conditionals, and lists appropriately. They will also learn to use functions and write appropriate comments for their code.
I am still learning about EarSketch, but what I can tell so far is that it will engage some of my students (all young women) who are very involved with music-based extracurricular activities. It is also an application for programming that my students might not be anticipating. Through my dissertation study, I am learning about the importance of designing relevant and interesting examples and assignments for our students. EarSketch is definitely going to provide my students an opportunity to apply and practice programming concepts in a creative context with very appropriate supports in the form of instructions, resources, and examples. There are many links to audio and video files throughout!
I know that the research group is conducting further research to better understand EarSketch and its implementation in schools, specifically as AP CSP classes integrate the curriculum. I will be on the lookout for more publications about EarSketch – here is one about engagement across gender and underrepresented populations. Also, check out this EarSketch video that includes a variety of perspectives of people who have engaged with music and computer science through EarSketch.
Image from Website:
For more information about EarSketch:
Video: EarSketch: teaching coding through music
Journal Article: EarSketch: A STEAM-Based Approach for Underrepresented Populations in High School Computer Science Education
As we return to school, some teachers have shared with us that they are having conversations about race and tolerance with their students. These conversations are difficult, but so important. On August 22 there will be a webinar on the topic of “When Hate is in the Headlines” with American Federation of Teachers, the Southern Poverty Law Center’s Teaching Tolerance project, the Anti-Defamation League and Facing History and Ourselves (all linked below, too).
If you can’t make it to the webinar, here are some resources for learning more about these topics and for having conversations with students about inclusion, acceptance, and community. At the bottom of the post, there are links to people who facilitate these conversations professionally. You can find tips, advice, and more resources on their websites. What resources do you use? What activities have worked for you in your classroom?
Resources for learning more:
TED Talk: Verna Myers: How to overcome our biases? Walk boldly toward them
TED Talk: Bryan Stevenson: We need to talk about an injustice
Debby Irving’s Recommended Resources
Book: Hidden Biases of Good People
Resources for talking with students:
The Essentials of Dialogue: Tony Blair Institute for Global Change
Book: The Hate U Give By Angie Thomas (and Discussion Guide)
Classroom Lessons from Teaching Tolerance
Resources from Teaching Tolerance around School Climate
SEED: "White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack" and "Some Notes for Facilitators"
Facing History and Ourselves
Project Cornerstone (elementary schools)
People who can help:
Debby Irving: Racial Justice Educator and Writer
Liza Talusan: facilitator in conversations about diversity, racism, unconscious bias, privilege and power
Alison Park: Critically Rethinking Diversity