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Changing the World One Step at a Time: Introducing CS in the Middle School

I've taught middle school for fifteen years. Every year, after the students have graduated and moved on to high school, most of them return to thank me. Normally, my current students do not make an effort to thank me or acknowledge me in any positive way. To them, I am an evil math teacher who makes them solve problems without giving them hints. Well, this year is very different!

This year, our small parochial school started a computer science and robotics program for fifth through eighth grade students. We had been awarded a small math and science grant in the spring of last year. When I reached out to my support network of family, friends, and colleagues who taught math to ask what new graphics calculators we should get, my aunt, a CS professor, responded, "Why calculators? You could get a robot for a hundred dollars!" And there it began.

I thought I was going to start with a small computer club, maybe about ten interested students. Well, the administration was so excited about the prospect of a computer club, I was asked to develop a weekly course program for all middle school grade levels! Thanks in large part to an intense and highly informative CS conference hosted at Rutgers University, a colleague and I were able develop a pilot program to begin educating our students in CS. The course meets weekly, is required, and lasts 75 minutes.

Earlier this year there was a shortened morning schedule because of an assembly. This meant shortened CSR (computer science and robotics) time for the students. The groans of disappointment from the classes scheduled for CSR that day echoed through the building after morning announcements. This is not an exaggeration. The only other period that ever gets that response if it is shortened is recess.

Thanks to CS Unplugged, my colleague had plenty of great lessons while our computer lab underwent necessary repairs after flooding. We are very excited to have our students animate using Scratch 2.0, to complete our When the Finch Stole Christmas activity, to problem-solve while building and programming Lego Mindstorms, and whatever else we can include before the end of the year in June.

Last week, an eighth grader that I've taught for three years who has a rather severe learning disability approached me to say that he loved binary code. This is a child who, when given two to the third power, would have answered "six" eternally, if not for the perspective presented during CSR. I tried everything (at least I thought I had) before this. I watched him complete a binary code puzzle without aid, and everything was correct. A seventh grader who had attended a robotics camp over the summer expressed that it was amazing to have a "fun block" once a week. The eighth grade girls unanimously objected when the boys asked if it was a program meant for boys. The students, all students, simply cannot wait to attend their CSR class, and I can't wait to go with them.

Considering everything they don't know quite yet: the impact CS education will have on the their future, the future of our country, the world of education and employment opportunities that will be available to them personally, the theoretical aspect of cognitive development, the response is already incredible.

I hope that when the graduates visit me next fall they will still tell me that my work affected them deeply, but I have a feeling that the first thing they come back to thank me for this time will be computer science, even if they've already said it.

We are sharing our CSR program with the diocesan administrators this week with hope that our efforts can motivate others to initiate similar programs in parochial schools throughout the diocese. What a great way to celebrate CS Ed Week.

Marieve Patterson
Sacred Heart School
Mount Holly, NJ

Proudly submitted for my niece!

Fran Trees
CSTA Board of Directors-Chapter Liaison

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