Posted: Sun, 08/01/2021 - 5:40 pm EDT
Each month, we highlight a member of the CS for All Teachers community.
MICHELLE CHOI SWENSSON
Michelle Choi Swensson
Instructional Technology Facilitator
Los Angeles Unified School District
Years in education: 17 years
Years teaching computer science: 4 years
TEACHING COMPUTER SCIENCE (CS)
What interests you about CS?
There are so many aspects to CS that I love, especially for my younger students. I love that teaching Computer Science Education supports students learning through play and exploration to create, collaborate and share computational artifacts. In CS, students are immersed in problem-solving as they collaborate with their peers and teachers that share various perspectives. CS teaches students to recognize patterns to make sense of more complex computational issues and learn to debug and tinker with their algorithms. It also fosters the revision process since students continuously test and refine their prototypes with a local and global community. I also believe that empowering all students with CS education in elementary school will equal the playing field and hopefully be one step closer to closing the equity gap.
How did you start teaching CS? Do you have a background in CS?
It all started three years ago at a CUE conference where I attended a Raspberry Pi session. I was intrigued by the fact that a computer can cost $35. I worked at a Title 1 school, and we did not have devices for most of our students. Hence, the fact that I was able to repurpose old monitors and keyboards with these cost-efficient computers was the selling factor in getting started with CS education at my school. I did not have any formal education in Computer Science and learned whatever I could with the educator resources from Raspberrypi.org. I then created a CS club that introduced Scratch 2.0 with the RaspberryPi. Our first digital-making project was a toilet roll paper "robot" with a blinking LED light activated by our Scratch 2.0 project. It was such a memorable and enjoyable experience that allowed me to see the necessity and value of CS education.
How have your CS students inspired you? What is your favorite CS project you have completed with your students?
My CS students show so much creativity, perseverance, and grit. They love to express their interests and passions using CS as their pathway to connect with others and create innovative projects for their classmates, teachers, and for themselves. I learn from them all the time. I tell my students that I am not the expert in our classroom and that we can all learn from one another. I see myself as the facilitator and provide the learning experiences with some supports, if issues arise, we ask students to try to debug and offer solutions.
My favorite project was a physical computing project using the Design Thinking Process and up-cycled materials. Our teachers acted as clients to ask our students to create a field trip t-shirt with interactive safety features. First, they engaged in the Design Thinking process using Nearpod and Flipgrid to empathize with their client and ideate possible solutions for their final artifact. Then, using Scratch, Circuit Playgrounds, and Makey Makeys, they included safety features like a "GPS" and an alarm button for the safety field trip t-shirt. It taught students a design process to create an artifact but having students practice empathy was why this project was my favorite project.
How do you recruit students into your CS classes?
The first year I began teaching CS club at my school, I started with teacher recommendations since I could only have a set amount of students. As the club progressed, more students wanted to join, and I realized that only offering it as a club to students who could attend before or after school became an equity issue. I also knew that even with the RaspberryPi computers, it wasn't enough for an entire class of over 25 students. So I spoke with my principal, and he encouraged me to look at community partnerships for grants. I was able to write a grant about creating a Digital Makerspace Lab and was awarded $50,000. Through this grant and having my principal support the vision for all students K-5 receiving CS education during the school day, I modeled, co-taught, and co-planed CS lessons with teachers. After the grant, I am proud to say; all K-5 students at my school have been coming into the lab weekly for one-hour lessons, activities, and projects.
CS EDUCATION COMMUNITY
How do you get other teachers, administrators, and community members excited about CS?
I constantly share my CS ideas with teachers at my school site. I try to share project ideas that integrate CS with their academic unit and present CS professional learning sessions for the entire staff. In addition, we host Open House events featuring our student CS projects for families and community members. We offer parent education events where parents can learn to code through our Family Coding Nights that we hold in Spanish and English using Google CS First materials. I also create and present professional learning sessions district-wide for all LAUSD educators.
What excites you most about the current state of CS education in the US?
In our district, it was pretty uncommon even to consider teaching CS to Kindergarten students three years ago. However, things have changed drastically, and now it's the norm. There are many programs and resources to teach CS at the elementary level that wasn't as readily available when I started my journey. I'm most excited that educators in my district now see CS as a new literacy that all our students need to be college and career-ready.
What do you enjoy most about participating in CS for All Teachers?
I love the fact that I am involved in this national organization to promote CS education to all students. It has been amazing journey meeting and collaborating with other CSforAllTeachers Community Ambassadors around the nation. Being a part of CSforAllTeachers has also allowed me to connect with another educator, Kathleen Fugle, that I have yet to meet in person but now consider a friend. We were able to collaborate and present a webinar on a global coding project, ScratchPals.
Besides the CS for All Teachers community of practice, what is your favorite CS tool or resource?
This is the hardest question; I have so many that I want to list, but I think scratch.mit.edu might be the best resource for elementary teachers new to CS. It has coding cards, video tutorials, lesson/project ideas, and an educator resource page with additional links to various resources such as an educator meet-up. So it's not only an excellent platform for students but a robust curation of supports for teachers.
What is the biggest piece of advice you would give to potential CS educators?
My advice would be to say that it's okay not to have any experience teaching CS. There are so many resources out there that are ready to use in the classroom. Have an open mind, a growth mindset, and learn together with your students.
TELL US MORE!
What is your proudest professional accomplishment?
My proudest moment was being awarded the LAUSD Local District South Heroes in Education Award. I believe I was selected for that award for bringing CS education to all our students through the Digital Makerspace at my school.
Write a short poem describing what teaching CS is like or what CS means to you:
My acrostic poem:
C: Computer Science is for all students!
S: So, I will continue to advocate for CS wherever I go!
What do you do to recharge after a long day (or week, month, year, etc.) of teaching?
I binge-watch K-dramas, eat dessert, hang out with family and friends, and right now, I am into learning more about wearable tech and tech-infused art, and I might be able to introduce it to my elementary students.