CSForAll Brings Python to South Bronx Students (Part 1)

CSForAll Brings Python to South Bronx Students (Part 1)

CSForAll is a national initiative to bring rigorous Computer Science education and experiences to our nation’s youth. New York City is committed to expanding access to CS education in all of the city’s K-12 schools under the leadership of CSNYC , its partner organizations and NYCDOE. At the two year old South Bronx Early College Academy, Computer Science is included as a core program for all middle school students and the students are positively engaging in their first school based opportunity to learn CS. They are developing their computational thinking skills daily and the students are hungry for much more.

Working in partnership with the American Museum of National History, to co-pilot and co-develop an integrated CS/Science unit, our 6th graders are learning Python, a year earlier than planned. They are learning Python in anticipation of diving into this unit, which will challenge them to process large sets of climate data, ask questions, and make predictions by manipulating variables that influence climate to see how current climate trends might be changed!! The learning goals include having students use an algorithm, modify an algorithm and then create their own set of algorithms to investigate a real problem resulting in a learning experience that is quite meaningful to the learner. The final project will include a student exhibit that demonstrates the results of a student’s climate investigations. The final product will include a visual representation of climate data generated from the student’s Python programs, a written response that addresses questions developed and investigated by the student, and a reflection that explains how the use of technology to engage in computational thinking practices advanced a set of recommendations for solving a societal problem.

In grade 7, students are having a similar experience, applying computational thinking practices and advancing CS skills in the context of learning Python. For these 7th grade students, their learning experience is grounded in vital questions emerging from their health class. They are using these thinking and programming skills to study the impact of particular physical activities on their health and emotional well being. The challenge for these students is to produce a research paper and create a presentation to communicate their results for their Health and Physical Education class. In tandem, they will use Python in Computer Science to process their personal data set, as well as the full dataset from all students in the class, and offer an analysis of the data through a written reflection that makes sense of their results, while reflecting on their learning in this interdisciplinary experience. Using data collected in class, the student investigation takes a look at the effects of cross-training activities on strength, mood or affect, and how learning from class instruction impacts their activity levels.

Specifically, students in this Health and Fitness project are studying three training methodologies including TABATA, Training Intensity Distribution (Heart Rate Zones), and Crossfit. Students are learning about the methodology, history, and research behind these training methods. In CS, students will be processing different data sets that they have produced during the past two years of study. The two years of accumulated data cover information about push-ups completed, timed laps, timed mile, heart rate, weight, height, BMi, agility, etc. The Health and CS teachers look forward to facilitating in-class inquiry and guiding the conversations that will emerge from student investigations as students use Python to process and visualize their own personal data and draw conclusions from their analysis.

All the best principles of learning seem evident as one observes these South Bronx students, grappling to think and construct knowledge in this programming language called Python. The quality of collaboration is evident as students engage in whole class discussions or work with their table partners to follow the values of variables as they track a program’s flow. As students trace the steps of a program, they begin to understand how values are changing in the computer’s memory by drawing a memory table and a console window in their notebook! The development of persistence is clear as students meet our demands to create and trace a program’s flow and they find and develop more descriptive language as they discuss their understanding of what is happening. Not only are we proud, but the students are genuinely excited to have successfully produced memory tables and are able to reflect on the computations that are occurring as their Python program executes the functions they have created in code. Because these type of activities are iterative they reinforce foundational concepts, a growing sense of competence, and the motivation to do more. The students respond positively and love to compare their drawn tables to the problem’s solution. Students master many processes - launching Trinket in their web browser, writing code to ensure the print function works, and learning to interact with the Console window after using the input function. Students use materials from the CS Circles website and are quickly learning how to debug and read error messages. The smiles that accompany successful execution of a Python program are priceless.

Prior to studying Python all of our 6th grade students began to develop their Computational Thinking skills using the Creative Curriculum using Scratch developed by Karen Brennan, Christan Balch, and Michelle Chung at the Harvard Graduate School of Education. In our efforts to help students become practicing computational thinkers, students applied computational concepts learned across various projects that included creating a Scratch Game with at least two playing levels, recreating a story they read in Literature class as a sequence of Scratch animations, and building a digital portfolio of Scratch work completed accompanied by an analysis of how sequence, events, and blocks were used in the creation of their work. Scaffolding activities include unplugged and pre-Python instruction proved essential to developing our students’ creativity, reflective practices, communication, problem-solving, and debugging skills!

As a team of teachers and 220 students exploring data through the lens of a data scientist, we look forward to sharing our Part 2 post next month when student voices reflected in examples of their work will take the the spotlight.

Kelly J. Powers is the Director of CS & Technology Initiatives at South Bronx Early College Academy in the Bronx.Read more.