Posted: Mon, 12/20/2021 - 12:38 pm EST
Each month, we highlight a member of the CS for All Teachers community.
Shawn Patrick Higgins
Name: Shawn Patrick Higgins
Occupation: Middle School Computer Science and Media Arts Teacher
Workplace: Parkrose Middle School
Years in education: 11
Years teaching computer science: 10
TEACHING COMPUTER SCIENCE (CS)
What interests you about CS?
As someone who had a media arts background and who first started teaching coding through Scratch, what really stands out to me as the most interesting aspect of learning and teaching computer science is how it really can be distilled down to understanding the logic of how a system works. Now that might sound a bit dry in the abstract, but contextually as a project-based media arts teacher, it’s thinking about how animation works, how a touch-based Choose Your Own Adventure works, and how interactive art works.
How did you start teaching CS? Do you have a background in CS?
I'm probably a little unique in that my degree was actually in video art! About 12 years ago, I first started teaching video and media classes at the local public access station in Portland, and then we started a youth program for after school video classes. Two years later, one of the schools I was teaching at had an opening for a middle school “technology teacher” and I really liked the school, so I joined up officially! Coding was one of the main focuses, so while it wasn't my expertise at the time, that was the start of my CS journey!
How have your CS students inspired you? What is your favorite CS project you have completed with your students?
Our capstone middle school projects are usually a Choose Your Own Adventure story or a multi-level game in Scratch, and I am always blown away at how creative students can get once they have a good understanding of visual design and audio design. We do a lot of scaffolding with digital art projects early on and focus on saving all our work as “assets” for future projects. It’s always such a joy when an 8th grader brings back or “upmixes” work from their 6th or 7th grade year, and it returns as a game or story element in their big 8th grade project.
How do you recruit students into your CS classes?
I think I'm in a pretty unique and lucky situation in that I was a “core” elective for 6th graders coming into the school, so while they only had me for 1/4th the year, almost every student in the school got a taste of what my class is. As 7th or 8th graders, they get to choose their electives and can take them all year, so a lot of students end up coming back. The big plus of having a media arts and CS-focused class is that you're usually making a lot of visual work, which students love to show off, and will usually get their friends who aren't in the class pretty interested! :D
CS EDUCATION COMMUNITY
How do you get other teachers, administrators, and community members excited about CS?
This was a huge challenge for me the first few years when I started teaching CS back in 2010 in the pre-Code.Org times. It really felt like you were teaching on an island, and it was legitimately hard to find community and other like minded CS teachers. But with the advent of code.org in 2013, and then Obama’s big CS for All push in 2015, awareness blew up. I went to a creative computing workshop at Harvard in the summer of 2016, and met a lot of the ScratchEd folks there and that was a revelation. We had our first ScratchED PDX meeting in Portland a few months later, and that's definitely been my main community building up since then. I've gotten quite a few fellow teachers and admins to join in, and while it’s a much more narrow focus than CS for All Teachers, it's fantastic for educators who focus on Scratch. It's a great resource if there is a meetup near you. And if there isn't, you should consider joining one!
What excites you most about the current state of CS education in the US?
The most exciting thing to me about CSED in the US right now is honestly how open and flexible things are. Every year is an evolution. New software. New Ideas. Progress. It feels a little bit like the Wild West of education, and obviously that will begin to change in the next 20 years as things become more standardized and optimal paths are revealed. The feeling of discovery that exists when you've got a successful program and new elements are developing every month is both exciting and intimidating!
What do you enjoy most about participating in CS for All Teachers?
Community! I mentioned this in a previous answer, but for my first three years as a teacher I felt alone when it came to my subject, and it was hard to try to find other educators to share my experiences and iterate ideas. More than anything else, I love helping people. It's why I became a teacher in the first place, and now through [virtual communities] like CS for All Teachers, I can offer my help to even more folks so they don't have that experience I first did when starting. I'm really thankful for that.
Besides the CS for All Teachers Community, what is your favorite CS tool or resource?
SCRATCH! P5.js! TINKERCAD! WICK!
Ha! maybe my answer should be free web apps in general? More than any other Scratch has really been foundational to my growth as an educator, and the community around it is absolutely amazing. If you get the chance to join in a few ScratchEd meetups, you should! Especially during COVID times, one of the strange positives is that it’s never been easier to meet other teachers from all over! I've had a teacher from Albuquerque join in our last three ScratchED PDX meetups, and I'm regularly going to the San Francisco and Montreal meetups on Zoom. If you haven't had the chance, I fully endorse it!
What is the biggest piece of advice you would give to potential CS educators?
Figure out what you love about CS and focus on mining that! CS is currently one of the most versatile subjects in K-12, especially in the younger grades. If you can figure out what you're most passionate about and start to build your projects and curriculum to focus on that aspect, your students will start to engage like never before. It’s intimidating to be a teacher in the Wild West of CS for sure, but there is often a level of freedom that other teachers don't enjoy. If you can properly use that to your advantage to build your curriculum, nothing can stop you.
TELL US MORE!
What is your proudest professional accomplishment?
My proudest moment with my students is an easy one, nothing will beat our first First Lego League competition at Intel HQ out here in Oregon. It was an outrageously cool venue that wowed all of us, students and teachers alike. Seeing my kids up there on the main stage at Intel being SUPER hyped and doing their best was deeply moving. My proudest moment, as a kid from North Philadelphia whose parents both dropped out of high school early, was being flown out to and put up by Harvard for the ScratchEd Leaders Convening. It was an amazing time and an incredible honor!
What do you do to recharge after a long day (or week, month, year, etc.) of teaching?
Does Rocket League Count? My dad bought a Nintendo the day I was born and I was raised with games. A good action RPG is definitely my go to recharge escape!