With Support From PLTW Professional Development, Teacher and Students Learn Computer Science Together

Maxcy Dimmick is a teacher at Jarrett Middle School in Springfield, Missouri. She has taught many different subjects during her 34 years of teaching, including junior high and high school math, K-12 instrumental and vocal music, and American history. Maxcy has a Bachelor of Arts in Music Education and a Master of Education with an emphasis in Information Technology. Maxcy and her husband raise and show Missouri Fox Trotters. She also enjoys knitting and baking.

Hello! My name is Maxcy Dimmick, and I teach Project Lead The Way (PLTW) at Jarrett Middle School in Springfield, Missouri. I am in my 34th year of teaching. This school year is my second teaching PLTW but my first teaching Introduction to Computer Science 1 and 2.

I must admit that I was very excited, but a little apprehensive, about teaching this course. After all, I had very little experience writing code myself, so how was I going to teach it? But with the excellent professional development and support provided by PLTW, as well as the unfailing support of my principal and my district, I forged ahead with my class, confident that my students and I could figure it out together.

Oftentimes, unable to contain their own enthusiasm, they jumped ahead of my instruction, writing code and making the projects their own before I could even make it around the room to answer questions. They instinctively answered each other’s questions and helped struggling students catch up. I have been amazed and encouraged by the way they have fostered such a positive, collaborative environment in our classroom. It has been a great help to me, as I can only answer one student at a time, and usually several have questions. Each student, at some point in the semester, has taken a leadership role and helped another student with a problem. Several students have emerged as leaders, as many students look to them first with questions.

What surprised me the most was their creativity. From the very beginning, many students were finding a way to write a unique program tailored to their own interests and expressing their own personalities. I honestly never thought of writing code as a creative outlet, especially at this early stage of learning. But my students had a completely different idea about that. Making their programs uniquely their own was a very high priority for them. Now that we are creating projects based completely on their own ideas about need and content, their creativity is even more apparent.

Another positive, if more predictable, outcome is the high level of engagement and enthusiasm that the students exhibit. Students enter the room excited about their projects and ready to get started. Discipline problems are non-existent, as it is difficult to misbehave and write code and collaborate with a partner, all at the same time.

However, I would not describe the classroom as quiet and studious – far from it! There are heated discussions as well as frequent bursts of laughter. When a commotion erupts in one part of the room, students from another part of the room will wander over and see what the fuss is about. They then share the event or idea with their partners and sometimes adjust their projects accordingly.

As an educator, one of the most satisfying outcomes of this class to me is the shift in the students’ attitudes about problem solving. Students no longer see it as a teacher-directed activity. It is simply a means to an end, as it should be. I have enjoyed watching and listening as groups of students define problems, suggest solutions, and implement plans with little or no teacher direction. I cannot help but think that this shift in attitude will serve them well as they continue their academic progress and beyond.

As much as my students have learned and changed during this course, they have not learned or changed as much as I have. I continue to be amazed and impressed by my students and can’t wait to see what they do next.