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Teachers head back to the classroom for coding

New Hampshire Union Leader

June 15. 2016 9:11PM
Raul Boquin, right, and Paul Medlock-Walton of MIT prepare their presentation of coding at the Coding Across the Curriculum TeachCode Academy at UNH Manchester on Tuesday. (DAVID LANE/UNION LEADER)

MANCHESTER — Dozens of teachers are back in the classroom this week, assuming the role of students in the high-tech field of computer coding.

Teachers enrolled in the two-day program are learning how to teach code, but not just for computer science classes. The program is designed to bring coding into the curriculum of all subjects and provide another avenue for students to gain some of the technological skills in high demand with employers in the 21st century.

“It’s a skill that they’re going to need to have in their lives and not really on the radar for a lot of schools. I feel like they know more than I do some of the time,” said Chuck Patterson, a science teacher from White Mountains Regional High School in Whitefield.

Patterson was one of 40 teachers taking part in the Coding Across the Curriculum workshops, a pilot program that is a collaboration between Millyard-based Internet performance company Dyn, state and local education initiatives and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

“I think it’s great to come down here because it will give me another tool to connect with them and present my curriculum in a way they get excited about. It’s not just ‘we’re learning boring science,’” Patterson said.

Instructors from MIT led the sessions at the University of New Hampshire’s Manchester campus in the Millyard, showing teachers how existing computer programming and apps can be used or adjusted to help draw students in and get them more excited about what they are learning.

“Despite the fact that we are MIT and we love technology, we don’t believe in technology for technology’s sake,” said Carole Urbano, outreach specialist for MIT’s Scheller Teacher Education Program. “It doesn’t always fit. If you already have some instructional strategy that’s working, use that. But if you are looking for things that you need more for engagement or to build new skills or build new kinds of thinking, this is where this technology comes in.”

Urbano said Manchester was a good choice to introduce the pilot program because of the STEAM Ahead program at West High School and the state STEM initiative. The programs’ acronyms emphasize Science, Technology, Engineering, (Arts) and Math.

“The work that the STEM taskforce is doing is really very powerful in terms of creating a climate for this kind of change and vision of how learning gets done in the classroom,” she said. “It’s a very powerful groundswell.”

Dyn has been one of the leaders in getting STEAM Ahead program going, first at West, then last year at McLaughlin Middle School. It will expand this fall to White Mountains Regional.

“I’ve been kind of involved in that since it started and really excited to get that going,” Patterson said.

STEAM Ahead director Bob Baines, who was longtime principal at West before serving six years as mayor of Manchester, hopes it continues to spread.

“These teachers just got out of school (for the year) and we have 40 of them here spending two days, learning about coding, getting excited about technology, getting exciting about education and really making a difference in the classroom for the education of their students,” said Baines, now director of community relations at Dyn.

“What we’re trying to do is affect education reform to move to project-based, hands-on learning. When students learning codes or games or whatever is associated with the curriculum, they retain more information and knowledge.”

Urbano said much of the technology needed to build an app or game is accessible to the public and not as daunting as it sounds. With a little introduction and study, teachers can involve the concepts and computational thinking into all subjects.

“Teachers and students alike can use an existing model and they can come up with their own hypotheses and do the programming to explore those hypotheses,” she said.

Maria Passanisi, a math teacher at West, said she wasn’t sure what to expect from the two-day sessions but was excited just a few hours into Tuesday’s workshops.

“You have to learn. You have to keep learning or else you’re going to fall behind,” she said. “I wanted to see what they can show me that I can bring back to the classroom. I’m always looking for ways to improve, and this is just a great way. I’ll lead them, but they’re in charge of which direction they go with it.”

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