Elementary Teacher Learns Alongside Computer Science Students

Christine Davenport teaches PLTW Launch at West Platte Elementary School in Weston, Missouri.

Project Lead The Way Launch is a specials class in my school, so coming from being a 5th grade teacher for 15 years, as well as a gifted teacher, computer science has changed my norm of a classroom environment in many ways. What once looked like playing around and not being focused now looks like problem-solving, multi-step command following, and internal pride.

Computer science has always been a foreign thing to me. For most of my students, it has always been around through video games, tablets, and phones. In fact, second graders were impatient with the timeline when we began the module Grids and Games. However, now more than halfway through, they ask to revisit Rosie’s Runtime, to play rolling sums so they can show off their scorekeeper on Scratch Jr., and have been making “blueprints” on their own time of ways they will solve the game design and problem at the end of our module.

One of the biggest problems I faced at the onset was who, in student pairs, got to control the iPad to complete tasks. I solved this by creating green and red table tents. Each partner has one red and one green tent. If the green is in front of you, you are the driver of the iPad and execute the commands or directions. If you have the red tent in front of you, you are the navigator. You are hands off and can only use your words to guide, direct, and affirm the driver’s work. This began as a solution for my second grade Grids and Games group, but now I’ve implemented this for any module where computer science is in action, because it fosters learning different roles and helps improve any weaknesses of the team members in a positive way – plus it is a wonderful visual for me to see who is doing what they should and shouldn’t.

Recently, we had a STEM night at our school, and I set up Rosie’s board for the parents to see how we began understanding the commands and simplicity of coding. They, of course, thought it was a game of Twister! I employed the students to be the teacher and walk them through the steps of the board, provide feedback on glitches, and teach them – not tell them – how to adjust their command cards for success. This is second grade; the parents were in awe, and so was I. 

I have the opportunity and privilege of teaching all the modules, and along with that comes being exposed to so many amazing things that kids can do in all the different facets of PLTW. Students are so excited to come in and be a programmer, be a problem-solver, and make something that, at the outset of the module, they thought only adults could do.

The greatest way to explain how students have reacted to PLTW's Computer Science pathway is to quote a 2nd grade girl of mine who said, “We need more time than just 35 minutes! At least an hour! I am going to talk to my mom and get that fixed!”

I must be honest, though: I was terrified. I cannot even get past the first level of Mario Brothers. I fall in that hole EVERY TIME! In my mind, there was no way I could teach any grade, especially the young ones, how to code, create, and present a video game. Ever. But guess what? I did, because of them. I taught them, they taught me, and together, we made it. Computer science at all levels is amazing and needed. Don’t be fooled though: I still can’t get past the first level of Mario despite my new-found skills. Baby steps.

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.