- Wichita Falls ISD
- Community Insider Spring/Summer 2019
How I Started Code.Org at Kirby Middle School, by Tami Davis
How I Started Code.org at Kirby Middle School
By Tami Davis, M.A., M.Ed.
IBMYP Coordinator, Hirschi High School and Kirby Middle School
On March 3, 60 Minutes featured Code.org and explained that its program was a workable way to expand the skill of coding to more students, especially females.
WFISD can vouch for the program, too, since Kirby IB Coordinator Tami Davis brought it to Kirby Middle School this year. Here’s how it’s making a difference.
Kirby IB Coordinator Tami Davis has had her Technology Applications certification for more than a decade. But she never dreamed that she could teach something as cutting-edge as coding. That is, until she was introduced to the free training offered by Code.org.
Q: What are Kirby students doing with coding today that they weren’t doing a few years ago?
A: I see them problem-solving and collaborating every day. They have built websites, and now they are in the game-design process using a combination of block coding for java script basics. They are learning computational thinking skills that can be applied in all areas.
I have a rule that, if they have a question, they have to ask their elbow partner before they can ask me.
Q: So how did all this get started?
A: In February 2018, I went to a technology conference in Ft Worth. I had taken most of the Google trainings they offered, so I decided to see what the Code.org session was about.
The session was great. The session leader suggested I apply to the summer workshop and teach coding at Kirby. I told her I just know Google, and that I had zero coding experience.
She told me that didn't matter. She thought I would be just fine. So I applied. It was all free. I didn’t think I would be accepted. But I was!
I had five days of training at the UT Dallas campus with free room and meals. Then I took four continuation training days on Saturdays at UT Dallas spaced over the past six months. All free. The platform the students and teachers use is free, too.
I had to commit to teaching at least one class the following year, so I asked the principal – Dr. Troy Farris, at that time -- what he thought about me piloting the program at Kirby the following year with just one class.
Dr. Farris was all in. When Mrs. Shannon Cunningham replaced him during the summer, she was all for it, too. I have had my Technology Applications certification for over a decade, so I am "legal" to teach this level in the state of Texas.
Q: What was the training like?
A: The training through Code.org is great. The philosophy is that the teachers are the "lead learners." We don't have to be experts. During the first semester, I was definitely lead learner.
Q: What was your goal as you began?
A: My goal was to stay two weeks ahead of my fastest student. It was tough, but fun, and I learned a lot -- as did my students.
During the second semester, I heard myself explaining concepts I knew nothing about six months ago. The kids love the Code.org platform – which is free for them, as well. I see them problem-solving and collaborating every day.
Q: What is your goal now?
A: The bottom line is that we needed to expand computer science at Kirby, and now I want to expand to Hirschi High School as well. I have taken more classes through Dexter Learning and online to learn web design and java script so that I can introduce Computer Science Fundamentals and Web Design courses at Hirschi in the future. Both of these fall under my tech apps certification umbrella. Ultimately, we want to introduce IB Computer Science to the juniors and seniors. Kirby will carry on with another Tech Apps teacher and Code.org.
Q: In your opinion, why is this so necessary?
A: Diversity in the computer science industry is severely lacking, and I believe it is simply due to the lack of exposure to the field in elementary and secondary schools. All kids can do this. They just don't know they can. These early courses can open doors for kids that they never thought about.
Additionally, I believe a fundamental understanding of programming should be the fifth core subject. It is becoming that entrenched in our society. Just because we require all ninth graders to take biology doesn't mean they will all become biologists. But we believe they need to know the fundamentals. The same holds true for computer science.
Any educator who wants more information can find it at the code.org website.