With energy and drive, teacher David Villafana paved the way for the Miller Middle School’s first computer science class, based on the success of an after school club he initiated. We talked with him about the school’s decision process and reasons for their enthusiasm about programming.
What were some of the reasons Miller decided to include coding in the school curriculum?
Here we are in Silicon Valley — the heartbeat of computers and technology. A lot of kids are taking classes outside of school or getting tutored on coding. Not to give our students an opportunity to learn programming would not make any sense.
How will the computer science elective be structured?
The class will meet daily and will run for 10 weeks, 4 times a year. About 300 6th graders will rotate through the sessions. My goal is to present a new lesson four days per week, and have students work on DIY projects daily. On Fridays, students will work on their final project (a game), which will give them the opportunity to apply what they are learning each week.
What convinced your school to offer the computer science elective?
We had been using Tynker in our after school club. Tynker’s game-like structure did all the teaching so it wasn’t a burdensome class. Because of the great lessons Tynker provided, it’s a class that basically ran itself with lots of student engagement. Kids got a lot out of it and there were plenty of positive outcomes.
With common core standards there is a big emphasis on real world applications and working in groups. Tynker’s visual coding environment supports this well. Students can easily see how someone else’s code works, so they can collaborate with each other on how to accomplish something through code. Supporting common core was a big plus.
I was glad that the curriculum we chose accommodates different levels of students. We were able to accommodate 6-8th graders in our club, and even include 5th grade students from feeder elementary schools, because Tynker’s lessons were designed to let kids start at a level appropriate to their skill, and allow them to easily progress at their own pace. This capability will give us more flexibility in how we teach the CS class this year and in the future. Tynker’s curriculum worked out really, really well for us, and for all these reasons, Tynker is what we are using for our new elective.
How did you get started with Tynker?
I first learned about Tynker from our PTA president. I thought, “This sounds great!” After brainstorming with the staff about how we could bring coding to students at our school, we went ahead and started a club. Kids enjoyed the class and created some incredible projects. That’s what helped us make the decision to make the class available to the entire 6th grade.
Are you excited about having a computer science elective at your school?
I’m just excited that we are going to offer it to all the students. It’ll be good to really see what the kids create in the class. We are still going to offer the after school club for those who aren’t in 6th grade and those who want to advance to a higher level of difficulty. I’m eager to see how many will sign up for the extended classes to build on what they’ve learned in the elective class.
And eventually I’m looking forward to the day when our students’ skills progress to a point when they are good enough to start applying their knowledge in real world situations. I know the parents are really excited for that as well.
Interested in doing more with computer programming at your school?