Computer Science: Three Things I've Learned

JoAnn Struwe is a computer science teacher at Elkhorn Area Middle School in Elkhorn, Wisconsin. JoAnn is a Wisconsin Master Educator – Computer Science, a Girls Who Code advisor, a National Junior Honor Society advisor, and cross country coach.

Computer science has certainly had a positive impact on my classroom environment, and I'd like to share a few things I've learned along the way: 

1.) Set Challenging Learning Goals for Students
From my home page, you will see evidence of my teaching philosophy, which has always maintained its basic principles while evolving with time and experiences. I teach students how to think a little bit differently, and my students respond positively and are eager to learn computer science when presented with the following:  

  • Failure can also be a great way to learn.
  • Don't be afraid to try or accept more than one approach to solving a problem.  
  • Learn how to think with a partner or a group to solve something together.  
  • Adapt new technologies to solve a problem – be innovative and creative.  
  • Understand that there is so much more to computer science than sitting alone in a cubicle all day! 
  • Computer science job prospects remain strong despite economically challenging times. These skilled individuals are found everywhere: the arts, film, finance, healthcare, manufacturing, journalism, music, security, and so much more!

2.) Take Computer Science Beyond the Classroom
PLTW has made great differences in my students’ lives! After implementing Introduction to Computer Science in grades 6, 7, and 8, we have found our students are left wanting more. We have recently implemented a national coding club in our building called “Girls Who Code,” which is a nonprofit organization looking to support and increase the number of women in computer science. This club meets weekly throughout the entire school year and was created to offer girls in grades 6-12 a fun, collaborative environment after school in which they can collaborate and learn to code together. Currently, we have 23 students actively participating in this club, ranging from grade 6 through grade 12. A key component to GWC club is to have a positive impact on the community by using computer science to solve a problem. Although we are in the early stages, the girls have narrowed down their collaborative project to designing and developing a relevant application that will help our local animal rescue facility, Lakeland Animal Shelter.

3.) Embrace the Role of Facilitator
My advice for educators implementing this curriculum for the first time is quite simple (and hopefully very encouraging!). Throughout your first run through the PLTW curriculum, you may feel your role often feels more like a “facilitator” than a “teacher.” I let my students know right away that we will gain some of our knowledge and expertise together! The dynamics of this classroom setup displays unique levels of team building, problem solving, critical thinking, and conflict resolution that you can only experience when you are right in the trenches learning along with your students. 

Now that I am working with PLTW for my second year, my role has certainly changed such that I am looked at as the local expert in the classroom. However, students will never cease to surprise me by teaching me things they have discovered, which I expect to continue happening no matter how much experience I gain in teaching this material. Students tend to be respectful and appreciative when the educator acknowledges that there is always something to learn, regardless of whether you are the student or the teacher.

PLTW’s blog is intended to serve as a forum for ideas and perspectives from across our network. The opinions expressed are those of each guest author.