Students Are Always Eager to Learn What’s Next in Computer Science Class

Nikki Dunn teaches Project Lead The Way at Coulwood STEM Academy in Charlotte, North Carolina. She enjoys singing, reading, and crafting. Nikki resides in Charlotte, North Carolina, with her husband and doggy.

Aug. 30, 2016. It is the first day of my PLTW Gateway computer science course, and I am ECSTATIC! After greeting my students at the door, I walk in and begin my very-much-rehearsed dramatic recitation of who I am, what I stand for, and how the students of Coulwood STEM are going to dominate the world with knowledge and skills that they gain through Project Lead The Way (PLTW) and computer science, and how I, of course, am going to help guide this great endeavor. My younger students were terrified, not of the course, but of my intense enthusiasm, while my older students asked, “So are we going to build the dog house things like your class last year?” You see, I taught PLTW Green Architecture last year and our in-class projects apparently set their expectations of my class very high. 

When I began teaching PLTW, I expected the opportunity to bring exciting courses to my school that would introduce students to new career pathways that they were not previously exposed to. Has this program done that for my school and students? Definitely!  Beyond that, it has deepened my love and passion for education. I get to model my expectations for my students and they, in turn, get to see their teacher make mistakes and get confused. They have taken quite a liking to helping me solve problems when I am stuck. I would have it no other way! We learn and laugh together as we try to find new ways to complete various tasks.

To prepare, I attended a challenging Core Training in Durham, North Carolina, on the beautiful campus of Duke University. Those few days flew by, and I left wondering what the heck I signed up for. It was not because I did not feel ready to teach the course from a lack of content knowledge. It was not because I did not think I was capable of effectively facilitating learning in my classroom. I was nervous because I felt like so much time and effort went into bringing this to life in my district, and I did not want to let anyone down, and this was not even my first go-round with PLTW. 

Every day in my classroom is an adventure. I am not sure if I ever really cared to be the teacher that students liked, but by the nature of the content and its delivery and project-based learning, it happens. We are now three months into the school year and the faces of fear and boredom have transformed into those of excitement of what CAN BE! I never thought that my students could fall so in love with the idea of being so creative and letting their imaginations and desires to help others guide their efforts in a classroom environment. Now, instead of asking me why they cannot repeat what previous courses did, I am greeted with curiosity of what they will learn/try next. Some days, my classroom is filled with moaning, groaning, and sighs of frustration because hours of coding turns into five seconds of an error, but it is all worth it when one kid excitedly yells, “I’ve got it!” It shifts the atmosphere in the room, the creative process train gets rolling right back on track, and all is well in the world once again.

PLTW did this for me and my students. For this, I am grateful!

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.