About Kristeen Shabram

Kristeen Shabram is a middle Business & Technology teacher at Westside Middle School in Omaha, NE. She is currently serving as one of the K-8 Representatives on the CSTA Board.

New Year, New Ideas, New Strategies: Personalizing Learning in Computer Science Education

It’s that time of year when everyone is reflecting back on the experiences they’ve had the past year and thinking about resolutions for the upcoming year. As teachers, we usually reflect back during the summer months on how the school year went. However, teachers also use the end of a semester as a time to reflection. Often times after winter break, teachers start new classes and have new students. With the start of a new semester, teachers have the opportunity to review and build upon previous experiences from first semester, but also implement new ideas and new teaching strategies. With the second semester quickly approaching, it has me thinking of my own resolutions for second semester and what I would like to do differently. At the beginning of this school year, I attended a workshop where I learned about the five elements of personalized learning set forth by my school district. I remember walking away from this workshop with a handful of ideas and strategies that I could implement in my own classroom. However, here I am at the end of the semester, and I haven’t had the chance to fully implement the five elements. So as my second semester resolution, I am committed to personalizing the learning experience for students in my computer science courses. Below is my plan as it aligns to the five elements of personalized learning.

Element #1 – Know Your Learners:  Knowing my students’ interests is the beginning of personalizing their learning experience. By using interest inventories, I can find out what areas of computer science they’re interested in, what they already know, what they would like to learn, and how I can help them to further their overall interests in computer science.

Element #2 – Voice and Choice: I know that all students learn differently, so why should I force all my students to sit through a lecture or have them all do the same project with the same requirements? By letting go of the uniformity, I provide voice and choice for my students. Students will not only be given a choice in how they access the content, but they will also have a choice in how they demonstrate their proficiency. Ultimately, I want my students to have the opportunity to demonstrate their learning in a meaningful way and give them more ownership of their learning.

Element #3 – Flexibility:  It seems like the term “flexible classroom” is all the rage these days. Providing students an opportunity to move their desks, sit in comfy chairs, and work in all areas of the classroom is said to increase learning and engagement. I was skeptical at first, but after trying it out for one week in my classroom, I was shocked. My fears of students not getting any work done and just socializing were quickly dismissed. My students really enjoyed having the freedom to move around and collaborate with each other, allowing them to make the classroom their own personal learning space. I also feel that a flexible classroom provides my students with a more realistic view of what they will encounter when they enter the workforce, especially in the field of computer science.

Element #4 – Data Informed Decisions: Students often look to teachers to be the experts, but rarely are students given the opportunity to be called the expert. By pre-testing each student, I can get a better understanding of their skill level and use this data to provide them with a more individualized approach to learning. I can also encourage students to step forward and be content experts, allowing them to do some peer-teaching.

Element #5 – Technology Integration:  The SAMR Framework is a commonly used model for technology integration. I find myself all to often integrating technology that only enhances my content, which only reaches the first two levels of the model (Substitution and Augmentation). I would like to stretch myself and explore types of technology integration what will reach the transformation levels of the model (Modification and Redefinition). One type of technology integration that I would like to implement is student-created podcasts and videos. I want to give my students opportunities to become creators of content and share their experiences with others.

I am excited to embark on my resolution of embedding the elements of personalized learning within my computer science courses. I think by embracing the mindset of personalized learning while structuring my classroom around the five elements will lead to an increase of student engagement. I am also excited to see my students take more ownership of their learning and pursue their passions further in the field of computer science.
Resources: http://westsidepersonalized.com

Kristeen Shabram
K-8 representative

Using Genius Time/Passion Projects to Encourage Exploration of Computer Science

Genius Hour is a movement that allows students to explore their own passions and encourages creativity in the classroom. It provides students a choice in what they learn during a set period of time during school. The Genius Hour movement has been around for years and has been used by some of the world’s leading innovative companies. One of those companies, Google, allowed their engineers to spend 20% of their time to work on any project that they’re passionate about. The philosophy behind this movement is that when people are given the opportunity to work on something of personal interest, productivity goes up. Well, they were right. Since Google’s implementation of Genius Hour, fifty percent of their projects, including Gmail and Google News, have been created during this exploration time. Who would have thought that allowing employees the freedom to explore their own interests during work time would contribute to the company’s success?

Since its inception, Genius Hour has made its way into the world of education and is transforming the way students learn and take ownership of their learning. There have been many educators leading the way with Genius Hour in their classrooms and most of their inspiration has come from Angela Maiers and Amy Sandoval’s book The Passion-Driven Classroom: A Framework for Teaching & Learning. Recently, I have become inspired by this Genius Hour movement as well, and I have started to explore how I could apply it in my own classroom. More specifically, I have thought about how could I use Genius Hour to encourage my students to further explore the field of Computer Science. There are so many areas of study in Computer Science and I often find myself just providing a brief summary for my students to spark their interest. But what if I could ignite that spark, and then provide an opportunity for my students to keep the flame going?

Recently, my school district made a commitment to personalized learning for all students and invested in personalized learning coaches that will help with implementation in the classroom. When it comes to personalized learning in the classroom, no single thing is more powerful than Genius Hour. One of the coaches loaned me Andi McNair’s book Genius Hour: Passion Projects that Ignite Innovation and Student Inquiry. After reading this book, I definitely feel prepared to ignite that spark and implement a Computer Science Genius Hour in my classroom. McNair say, “Genius Hour provides students with opportunities to discover what it means to think for themselves, to really pursue something that is meaningful to them.” She also goes on to say that, “It’s time to realize that in our classrooms sit the world changers, inventors, and innovators of tomorrow. Our students are the future.”

This school year, I have decided to embark on a Computer Science Genius Hour Journey with my students. I am so excited to give my students the opportunity to further research Computer Science as a field, explore related topics, and potentially collaborate with outside experts in the field. Ultimately, I want to encourage my students to make a personal connection with Computer Science. Through those personal connections, my hope is that they discover their own passion in computer science and find ways to impact their world through their discoveries.

If you’ve implemented Genius Hour in your Computer Science classroom, I would like to hear from you. If you’re interested in taking this journey, below are some additional resources that I have found to be helpful:

  • AJ Juliani’s “The Research Behind Genius Hour” provided insight on connecting standards to inquiry-based learning. http://ajjuliani.com/research/
  • Chris Kesler’s Science Blog provides “10 Reasons to do Genius Hour with your Students” – https://www.keslerscience.com/what-is-genius-hour/
  • Chris Kesler and AJ Juliani’s website (http://geniushour.com), provides a free webinar called “Getting Started With Genius Hour: The Step-by-Step Guide to Structuring Genius Hour.” They also offer a Genius Hour Master Course, which is a comprehensive course that walks you step-by-step through Genius Hour and how to implement it in the classroom.
  • Westside Community Schools Personalized Learning website (http://westsidepersonalized.com) provides a wealth of resources, as well as podcasts that highlight how teachers in my school district are implementing personalized learning.
  • Westside Community Schools EY (Gifted) Website (http://ey.westside66.org). Follow the “Enrichment” tab to “Passion Projects” to find templates and suggestions for Passion Projects

Kristeen Shabram
K-8 representative