TeachTech 2020 - Giving teachers the tools to teach computer science

TeachTech 2020 - Giving teachers the tools to teach computer science

This year, on January 25th, Code Haven hosted our third annual Teach Tech conference. Here’s why we did it, how the day went, and what we took away from it.

What is Teach Tech?

Every winter, Code Haven hosts K-12 educators from New Haven and surrounding areas to help them learn how to integrate computer science into their school’s curriculum. The day consists of presentations, technical workshops to help teachers learn how to code, several demo activities to replicate in classrooms, and time for networking and exchanging ideas. The goal of the event is to equip teachers with the knowledge and resources they need to teach coding in their own classrooms. This event is a great way for us to share our own experiences with teaching computer science, and we are always grateful for all the new ideas and techniques that teachers share with us.

At this year’s event, we covered all of the introductory computer science concepts that we teach in Code Haven classes with a “Coding Fundamentals” talk and had a keynote address on the importance of computer science in early education. Every session was designed to get teachers more excited and prepared to teach computer science in their own classes.

Why do we host Teach Tech?

Even as Code Haven has expanded our reach from 18 students in 2016 to over 180 students in the 2019–2020 school year, we know that we won’t be able to reach every student with our limited number of mentors. Every year, we receive many more requests from schools than we are able to satisfy. We started Teach Tech three years ago to give even more students access to computer science education, even if we can’t go to their class directly.

Our Mission: to inclusively increase access to computer science among middle school students, regardless of previous interest

Numerous studies have found that students from low-income families and minority groups tend to have less access to coding activities and resources. This is why we aim to help as many educators as possible get the tools they need to integrate computer science into their school curriculum. We hope that by making computer science accessible to students directly in their classrooms, we can spark a new generation of innovative thinkers. Based on feedback from conference attendees, every single teacher felt better equipped after the conference to integrate computer science in their own schools.

In addition to learning from Code Haven’s curriculum and experiences, the teachers were able to engage in important discussions with each other. Giving teachers from all over the area a space to learn from each other was amazing to witness. Following a talk about self-selection bias in computer science, we discussed the best ways to make sure that CS programs are inclusive. One educator looking to start a Girls Who Code club was able to connect with other experienced club leaders. Being able to facilitate those kinds of discussions and connections made us certain that TeachTech was achieving its purpose.

Narrative of the Day

Teach Tech 2020 began with complimentary breakfast for attendees from Panera Bread and a check-in booth with a selection of Code Haven-branded items and swag from our sponsors.

The Code Haven events team began distributing pamphlets, which contained an itinerary and a detailed overview of the day’s workshops. After a short introduction to Code Haven given by Maansi and Bernardo, we got started with the first event of the day: a keynote given by Nathaniel Granor, who is at the forefront of the growth of computer science education in the northeastern United States. In his talk The What and Why of Computer Science, Nathaniel emphasized both the changing nature of technology and the increasing power and innovation that computer science can bring not only to technology but also to all other academic endeavors.

The next event on the list was Hello World!, an overview of coding fundamentals and how to teach them to middle school students. Gabe and David explained the importance of enthusiasm, interactive activities, and the use of live coding exercises and independent projects alike to reinforce understanding.

After this presentation, we started our workshop sessions, which gave teachers several different options to choose from, including sessions about Scratch, Code.org, Google CS First, and Python Natural Language Processing. One of the most attended workshops this year was the Robotics workshop during which Sara taught teachers how to use Makeblock and Sphero robots that are easy and engaging ways to demonstrate computer science concepts. After a quick introduction to the robots, teachers were given a chance to play around with them and test out the different functionalities for themselves.

Another popular workshop was about MIT App Inventor, which is a program (similar to Scratch) that allows students to make Android apps that they can use on mobile phones. In our own curriculum, we dedicate half of the year to students creating their own apps. In this workshop, we showed teachers how to use the program and implementation tips. Teachers who attended the workshop were able to test it out on their own laptops.

Finally, Maansi and Mary hosted two workshops on Unplugged Activities, in which we demonstrated some of the ways we teach computer science to our students without the use of computers. For example, on the very first day of class, we do an activity where one of our mentors pretends to be a robot, and the class must give them instructions on how to wrap a present with wrapping paper, tape, and scissors. We use this unplugged activity to both show students how to give specific instructions to a computer and get them excited about computer science early on.

Takeaways from This Year's Event

Every year that we host Teach Tech, we do our best to improve upon the past year’s event and add new workshops and sessions based on the feedback that we receive. This year, we added 3 exciting new workshops: Google CS First, Language Processing, and Robotics. We were amazed by the popularity of these new workshops and the great reviews that they received from this year’s attendees. CS First appealed to educators who had little previous experience with coding, while Language Processing engaged many of our more advanced attendees. We heard from Robotics attendees that the hands-on aspect of the workshop was extremely useful.

One aspect of planning for Teach Tech that is most difficult for us is making sure we have useful information for all attendees regardless of previous CS background. This year’s event showed us that having workshops that explicitly target different experience levels works well, and we will expand on that strategy in future events.

We were thrilled that once again this year, 100% of attendees indicated that they would use the new skills and resources provided at their academic institutions.

“This conference made CS and coding easy to understand.”

“There was relevance in everything that was done.”

“I definitely have a better understanding of Code Haven’s philosophy and objectives.”

One of the biggest takeaways for us was that teachers were very interested to see and draw from our own Code Haven curriculum, and as a result, we have made developing online curriculum one of this year’s priorities. We believe that making our curriculum open source will allow us to work towards Teach Tech’s mission all year long by allowing us to share our experiences while benefitting from the feedback of others.

With nearly 40 attendees, this year’s Teach Tech was our biggest one yet, and thanks to the support of the Code Haven community and our sponsors, it was a great success! We can’t wait to do it again next year.

This article originally appeared on Medium.