STEAM Lab with CodeSpace

My name is Jennifer Earnest and I am a STEAM Lab teacher at a Title I elementary school in rural Georgia.  We are very lucky at my school with our ability to access technology. I would like to give you a little background into my year up until we purchased the Jumpstart Python kit.  This is our first year having a STEAM lab and I will be the first to admit I was lost and overwhelmed with all the things I could do in my class with access to every student and every grade level.  I meet with each class once a week so planning was difficult in what to do, where to store projects that are being worked on, and how to help the classroom teachers with their standards. I had access to Zspace computers, some iPads, some chromebooks, and some iPhones in my lab, which is amazing.  In the beginning I had HUGE ideas! I had the students excited and I was excited and we jumped right in. We talked and researched and planned and brainstormed how we wanted to produce our end products. I’ve got to tell you have some pretty creative kiddos. As we began working and researching we found several products online the kids wanted to try, and this being our first year I was all ears. However, one thing I didn’t plan for was learning new software.  Most of my students wanted to learn how to code, they had all had previous experience with Hour of Code and really enjoyed working on it. I did some research and Code.org offered free lessons for schools and we jumped right in. Code.org was fun for a little while teaching the students to block code. After a couple of weeks my upper grade students were bored and said they felt as though block coding was too easy and they wanted to be challenged. It was becoming a daily chore to work on code, there were groans of displeasure when they walked in and saw that we were coding that day.

 In November of 2019 I attended GaETC, Georgia Educational Technology Consortium, in hopes of learning about some new techniques, software, technology, and other resources that I could use in my STEAM lab to challenge my “bored” students.  While I was walking through the vendor area I stopped and spoke to the people at the Firia Labs booth. They tried talking to me about Python coding, to which my response was, “Huh?” They allowed me to work through a couple of lessons in CodeSpace with their Jumpstart Python curriculum and the micro:bit.  I was amazed at how easy I found it. I just knew then I had to have it in my classroom. 

We will fast forward two months and I have a 10-set kit and I am getting ready to introduce this to my students.  The classes began just like they always did, the students walked in and saw the agenda on the board and the groans began.  When they all started to try and log in to code.org they were confused as I stopped them. I told them that that day we were going to learn something new with coding.  After getting them signed in to CodeSpace and introducing them to Python coding they were eager to begin. There was not a sound to be heard in my classroom, except the pounding away of the keyboards.  It was amazing to watch them work through the Python coding process in CodeSpace! I will be the first to admit I knew nothing at all about Python coding and was just as eager to learn right alongside them. 

What I love about the Jumpstart Python program is the fact that it walks the students through the steps one keystroke at a time, specifically explaining why they are typing things the way they are, from capital letters to periods, and why spaces are placed where they are.  My students are challenged and engaged in the lessons. In the past when there was an error they would get frustrated and give up or yell for help, but now they work through the problems and the errors and are able to see the “whats” and the “whys”. Their problem solving skills have grown so much in the past couple of months.  They beg to use the micro:bits and Jumpstart program on days they do not come to me. Some even beg to come to me during their recess time. I have seen such growth from my special education students, my behavior groups, and it even challenges my gifted students. This is an all in one, differentiated program. As the kids become better acquainted with Python and what the micro:bits can do in CodeSpace their imaginations are beginning to run wild with the things they want to create.  With these lessons my students feel like they can do something their parents can’t do, and are ready to change the world!