Mark Schwanz Strategically Implements Technology
“Drones? Yes, I can’t wait to fly drones with Tynker. If school is this fun I will never want to retire.” -Mark Schwanz via Twitter
|Lynwood Unified School District|
In a Transitional Kindergarten (TK) classroom at Thurgood Marshall Elementary School in Lynwood, CA, Mark Schwanz is guiding 4- and 5-year-old students in how to use devices to encourage creativity, increase focus, practice language skills, and boost confidence. He’s been an educator for 23 years in a variety of roles, including a teacher, assistant principal, and technology coordinator. Currently, Mark teaches TK and serves as his school’s representative on Lynwood Unified School District’s technology committee. A Tynker Blue Ribbon Educator, he understands the power inherent in technology and the kinds of parameters that should dictate its use in the classroom. We had the chance to speak with Mark about his pedagogical approaches and how edtech tools like Tynker are impacting his students.
This interview has been lightly edited for style and brevity.
Tynker: How should early childhood educators use screen time?
MS: A good general rule is ten, fifteen minutes of screen time at a time for students that are age 5. Their bodies are at a stage where they need to be moving and interacting and their language is developing at a really high rate. But if they’re involved with a device and it has interactive content, or if they’re doing code, it’s a hybrid, hands-on approach. They’re communicating with their peers, manipulating images, and starting to use basic logic. They’re also starting to decode and make sense of language.
Tynker: Describe how coding aligns with broader learning objectives.
MS: One of the goals that I had was, “Ok, how is this going to work? How am I going to introduce code to 4- and 5-year-olds?” I was trying to find out, where does it cross over from play to quantifiable learning? What sort of logic are the students ready for if they’re not even reading yet? But I discovered that through coding, the students were starting to make sense of the logic of code, and that was applying to their literacy. They were saying, “Oh yeah, it goes from left to right. Each one of those code blocks represents something.” That crosses over to learning to read, or even starting to do math. The strength of Tynker is the ability to connect with other parts of the curriculum and have in-depth code instruction that’s very well-blended.
Tynker: How does learning to code help students develop other, non-technical skills?
MS: I’ll ask a student, “Will you share with us how you did that, and how you fixed it, because it wasn’t working at first?” And then the student will say, “I did this.” And then I’ll expand his sentence and I’ll give him a better way of saying it: “Why don’t you try it like this?” And he’ll repeat it back and I’ll say, “That was a really great sentence.” So it’s working at that language level with something that they’re engaged in.
I have students who have hyperactivity or maybe some things that are not diagnosed. It’s amazing to see students like that: They have trouble sitting down for five minutes, but they’re sitting beside someone, showing them what to do. And being able to transfer the focus that they’re able to have when they’re using a device, to working with a piece of paper and crayons, that’s a really important skill. Because we don’t want to teach them that they can only do that with a device; it has to be a transferable skill.
Tynker: How does learning to code help students who struggle in school?
MS: I have one student, we’ll call him Billy, he really struggles with focus and some of the ‘managing himself’ skills. But he’s been the one who’s excelled with Tynker the most. I think it’s because of the structure. He gets the logic, and he’s not afraid to try different things. The other day I noticed that the other students were seeking him out and asking him, “Can you sit with me, and can you help me?” They were working on one of the Tynker lessons that Billy had already mastered.
Tynker: Describe one way teachers can help students’ families understand what you’re doing with coding.
MS: Recently we had a literacy night. I did a little custom project, where students just animated a hat on a cat. It was interesting because, for my students, it was a little bit out of their reach, but because it was a family night, older brothers and sisters were working alongside them, and they were as interested in it as my students were. The older siblings were naturally really intrigued.
Tynker: What advice do you have for educators who are making decisions about EdTech?
MS: There are so many things we have to compete for–our students’ attention and the energy and the time of our staff–so why not have a tool that has so much to offer? Tynker has diversity, so it can take students at many different levels. And it has the management piece already built into it, so you don’t have to manage so many different apps. The thing about Tynker is that the students get to see the teacher learning alongside them, and that is pretty awesome.
Thank you, Mark, for sharing with us how learning to code helps students succeed in a variety of ways. We can’t wait to see how Thurgood Marshall students will continue growing healthy technology habits and self-efficacy in Mark’s classroom!
Read our previous post about Tynker Blue Ribbon Educator Sarah Schemanske, who uses robotics competitions and coding to prepare the next generation of engineers and makers!