PLTW Brings Collaboration and Connections into the Classroom

Melissa Korslien is a business education teacher at Valley Middle School in Grand Forks, North Dakota. Melissa is a software trainer turned middle school teacher with experience in education, technology, and marketing. Melissa enjoys collecting ugly holiday sweaters.

Along with another middle school in my district, I am in my first year of teaching Introduction to Computer Science. We have incorporated the curriculum into our eighth grade computer applications class. Previously, I taught a desktop publishing unit in which students designed the look of a smartphone application. Now with PLTW, my students are able to take the design much further as they problem solve their way through actually creating multiple apps. 

This experience has made my classroom more collaborative as students learn the value of working in pairs. It’s not as easy as it seems to work with a partner; students are learning the art of compromise and how to disagree respectfully. I can’t say enough how important this is to a positive work environment. My students are pushed to be more creative and think deeper than they have before in this content area. I have enjoyed seeing their ideas come to life, from election-themed apps to a game of flying chicken wings. My favorite part of the program is that it gives my high-ability students an opportunity to innovate beyond the initial project. I challenge them to see what they can do with the app, and the students come up with their own ideas to stretch its abilities. If the app performs well with one bouncing ball, let’s see what it can do with six. If the app can work using three pen colors, let’s try 10.

My students get excited to test their app on our classroom tablets, and they love to share it with others. Recently, we had the president of ITCND (Information Technology Council of North Dakota) in our classroom to view the apps the students created. They were eager to show him what they had built. PLTW helps me create these real-world connections from my classroom to the industry.

Before teaching, I worked in the technology industry for seven years as a software tester and trainer, but I had never programmed before. The training PLTW provides gave me a good foundation for the content. My background and training has been an asset in my classroom, but to be successful in teaching computer science, I had to take a risk in letting go of some control. Sometimes I’m learning along with the students. If a student asks a question I don’t know the answer to, I say, “Let’s figure this out together.” I think it’s a worthwhile lesson to model how to act in uncertainty, as we are most likely preparing students for careers that have not yet been invented.

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.