Change Makers: A Podcast from APH

Code Jumper: Computer Science is for Everyone

June 11, 2020 American Printing House Episode 8
Change Makers: A Podcast from APH
Code Jumper: Computer Science is for Everyone
Chapters
Change Makers: A Podcast from APH
Code Jumper: Computer Science is for Everyone
Jun 11, 2020 Episode 8
American Printing House

In this episode of Change Makers we're talking about Code Jumper, an accessible way for students to learn block coding in an inclusive setting. We talk with Cheri Bortleson, who tested Code Jumper in Washington State. Cheri is the K5 STEM and Computer Science Developer for the Bellevue School District. We also talk with Robin Lowell. Robin spent years teaching students with visual impairments in the classroom, and wrote the curriculum for Code Jumper.

If you'd like to learn more, watch videos, or read the curriculum, visit codejumper.com.

Show Notes Transcript

In this episode of Change Makers we're talking about Code Jumper, an accessible way for students to learn block coding in an inclusive setting. We talk with Cheri Bortleson, who tested Code Jumper in Washington State. Cheri is the K5 STEM and Computer Science Developer for the Bellevue School District. We also talk with Robin Lowell. Robin spent years teaching students with visual impairments in the classroom, and wrote the curriculum for Code Jumper.

If you'd like to learn more, watch videos, or read the curriculum, visit codejumper.com.

Jack Fox:

Welcome to Change Makers, a podcast from APH. We're talking to people from around the world who are creating positive change in the lives of people who are blind or visually impaired. Here's your host.

Jonathan Wahl:

Welcome back to Change Makers. My name is Jonathan Wahl. Today. We're talking all about Code Jumper an accessible way for students to learn about computer coding. We'll hear from Cheri Bortleson, who developes STEM and computer science curriculum. And we'll talk with Robin Lowell who wrote the curriculum that comes with code jumper. But before we get started, if you're new to code jumper, I just want to tell you a little bit about how it works. Code jumper takes block coding, something that's usually taught visually on a computer screen, and it puts it on the table in front of you. It's something that you can manipulate with your hands code. Jumper consists of a plastic hub and pods, and you use wires like a headphone jack to connect them together. Then using tactile knobs, you can create story songs and even tell jokes. As students work with code jumper, thatthe complexity increases - You learn how to loop and pause your code, and even how to create if then statements. Code Jumper is an introduction to coding that levels the playing field by creating the access for students who are blind or visually impaired. At APH, we believe everyone should have an opportunity to learn how to code opening doors to meaningful and well paying jobs.

Jonathan Wahl:

In the second half of today's show, we'll talk about how easy it is to teach code jumper with the included curriculum. But first, we're going to talk with Cheri Bortleson. The Computer Science Curriculum Developer for the Bellevue school district in Washington state, Cheri was one of the first teachers to test code jumper, and she did it with kindergartners, a younger age group than code jumper was designed for, but still with great results. Cheri, thanks for being on the podcast.

Cheri Bortleson:

My pleasure.

Jonathan Wahl:

Cheri, tell me a little bit about your introduction to Code Jumper.

Cheri Bortleson:

I was fortunate enough to learn about code jumper through a parent who actually works for Microsoft research and she's a parent of a child (audio glitch) schools, and she happened to mention, um, about the Code Jumper and wanted to know if I wanted to learn more. And how could we think about using this in our schools? And so from that point, I, you know, really tried to identify like where we would have students that would benefit from this and then began to really think about the tool as not just for students with visual challenges, more about like, how could we use this setting, um, in a more inclusive way,

Jonathan Wahl:

Cheri, I know you held a coding camp as a way to test code jumper. Can you tell me a little bit about how that worked?

Cheri Bortleson:

After first learning about the code jumper and trying to think about how we could implement it in the classroom setting? Not just in more of a, setting one-on-one with a particular student, we actually identified a kindergarten classroom that we thought, Hey, and what, what if we could use this tool in the classroom, not just with the student, with the visual impairment, but with all the kids, much more of an inclusive manner. We wanted to introduce them to the basics of computational thinking, what is an algorithm what's debugging, what are loops, and then this idea of everyone can code. And that's really where by design, we brought in Code Jumpers. So with this classroom, kindergarteners was very interesting because there was the one student with an identified visual impairment. And then there were several other students who are receiving, um, special education services in other identified areas.

Cheri Bortleson:

And then we had several, multilingual learners in the classroom. And so what we decided to do is set up stations, learning stations, because this is a very typical way. We teach kids in kindergarten, any during literacy and math and writing. And so we thought, well, why not just do that for computer science? We would introduce the topic for that day. So for the first day it was say algorithm and coding and everyone can code. So we really felt it was important to set the stage of learning environment. And so from there, and we divided the kids up into four stations. So one station was where the kids got to learn and start with play an exploratory play with code jumper. Another station was where kids were applying those concepts with code.org. Another station was what we called unplugged. That was a connection to literacy, where they do, um, you know, here a short excerpt of a storm writing about computer science.

Cheri Bortleson:

And then another station was an unplug that would reinforce the concepts. So the students had the ability to learn the concept and then have it reinforced it's in several stations. So what was exciting about it is all the children in the classroom were learning code jumper. And what I loved about it is I think it just really gave us an opportunity to set the cultural norm around how we load and who learns to code, and that we can use a variety of tools to learn how to code code jumper was designed for students ages seven to 11, but it sounds like it was useful with kindergartners as well. Tell me about how they responded. I think it was successful because we approached it in a small group setting. So as the students rotated through stations, you now, we hook the exploratory avenue first in that first, sesssion to show them something simple, talk about the components and then let them try it out.

Cheri Bortleson:

So again, because the Code Jumper has, you know, all these sophisticated pieces that can be added on. We just started with, you know, one simple mechanism and then added on a little each week. So kids are so curious and engaged and especially at that age, you know, they just don't have any preconceived notions about like how things should work and Oh, you know what coding is. And so we were really able to, you know, uh, take advantage of that natural curiosity and they kids want to turn knobs. They want to listen. And they, you know, those having multiple inputs was very engaging for the kids

Jonathan Wahl:

Code Jumper is meant to be inclusive. What was it like to see all of the students working together, getting to learn with the same tool?

Cheri Bortleson:

You know, it was great because I think it, one thing it does is it just normalizes how we learn instead of saying, well, the student who has a visual impairment or the student with more behavior challenges is going to go over here or typically, you know, what happens is it might be occur within the classroom setting, but it might be, Oh, we're going to have the teacher or paraprofessional work with that student and use that tool while everybody else uses this tool over here. So I think what we really wanted to do was just say, we are all learning all the tools. We want kids to help each other and learn from each other and build on that knowledge. And that's something we really saw happen where kids, um, you know, we really promote working in pairs there's and pair programming and solving any way. And so this was just another tool we could have kids work together.

Jonathan Wahl:

Cheri, what is your favorite part of Code Jumper?

Cheri Bortleson:

You know, just something with the sound and music. And I think there's just, you know, at least in the elementary range, there's not a lot of tools that have the feedback and the auditory piece. So I think that's exciting. We're really trying to have kids see computer science and coding is a creative endeavor and as a way, can express themselves and express their ideas. And so the tool like this is just another Avenue for that to happen for students. I mean, we want students to feel like they have a voice and they can express their creativity and their ideas. And this is another really powerful for all kids to be able to do that.

Jonathan Wahl:

Cheri, it's been great learning about how you used Code Jumper. Thanks so much for taking the time to talk with me today.

Cheri Bortleson:

My pleasure. I'm so happy to extend the conversation around computer science and inclusion and accessibility for all. So thank you so much for the opportunity.

Jonathan Wahl:

To test code jumper, Cheri worked with Robin Lowell. Robin has been involved with Code Jumper from early on. She's a true Change Maker. She spent years as a special education teacher. She wrote the Code Jumper curriculum and she's a senior manager of accessibility for i2e. Robin, ghanks for talking with me today.

Robin Lowell:

Thanks for having me here.

:

Robin, you know, you created and worked with a lot of the Code Jumper curriculum. Walk me through the process. How did you go about creating that curriculum?

Robin Lowell:

Well, when we were creating the curriculum, um, we really wanted to make it so that it was accessible and easy to use as possible. So accessible in terms of not only having access for those who need it such as a screen reader or large print, but accessible in terms of teachers feeling comfortable, uh, to use it. It's really challenging cause to jump into a whole new way of thinking with coding. Um, so it's really important that when you're looking at the product and, and, and with code jumper and looking at the curriculum that is not overwhelming and you feel like, yes, this is something that I can do. I can learn and I can teach my kids.

Jonathan Wahl:

And Robin, how did you actually go about creating it? Did you work with students? Did you test it? You know, what was the process of writing and problem solving and brainstorming to create what ended up as all these really important lessons for students?

Robin Lowell:

Yeah, there was a, the brainstorming process and, and I think this is one of my favorite all time projects, just because of the creativity. So we were having to think way outside of that box of how do we create curriculum that is, um, not only good for our students with visual impairments, but that can engage a whole entire diverse class of students so that all of the students feel like this is something that has been created for them. So when we were creating it, we were testing it out on our own kids. We were testing it out on kids that we worked with. Um, and, and just really thinking about it, also testing it out on other teachers and thinking about, and talking to teachers about, is this something that you would do? So a lot of research went into, um, the efficiency of the lessons to make sure that they can be done, you know, within the lot of timeframes, such as 30 minutes, um, there was a lot of research and thinking and, uh, problem solving and starting over from scratch on, is this a lesson that a student would really be engaged in?

Robin Lowell:

So we, we talked to, um, all different kinds of kids and we took our lessons into classrooms and, um, really tried it out to make sure that it was a good lesson and are all there, they're all good lessons and that it really had the point come across, um, that we are meaningful in that, in that lesson. So I think the biggest thing was creativity, trial and error, lots of debugging, and, um, really figuring out what the best option is for the curriculum.

Jonathan Wahl:

Robin, the curriculum is available@codejumper.com, but for people who haven't gone through them yet, can you kind of walk me through what a typical lesson might look like for parents or teachers?

Robin Lowell:

Absolutely. So if we're looking at a lesson that they're all set up at very similar format, so that way it's easy to kind of get that flow and that rhythm of the lesson, um, the lessons themselves. Um, again, we want to have this really inclusive experience for not only the students, but the teachers cause a lot of the teachers and parents will be, um, learning right along with their students and their child. So we wanted to make the lesson so you can just dive in and have everything you need right there, um, on, in the lesson plan. So each lesson has objectives. We, um, put in resources such as, uh, tutorial videos and, um, our or other outside resources, key vocabulary. So we have our key vocabulary words and also have them defined in a way that is, um, not too techie so that, um, anyone can really digest it and understand what we are, what we're talking about. And then, so for the flow for the lessons themselves, we start every lesson off with an unplugged activity. So thinking about this, so we're starting out and thinking about a computer, so computers are tools for information.

Robin Lowell:

So then we have a lesson that doesn't use code jumper that doesn't use technology, but uses a paper and pencils or, or, or a braille writer, or even your own body. They kind of learn these concepts before you go in and dive into them in coach jumper. So what's great about this is these can be used, um, in, in many different ways as part of the greater lesson as a standalone, um, opportunity to just learn more about the computing and coding and computer science. So then the next level of the lesson is really that guided activity. So we have a lesson that introduces like in the beginning, it's introducing coach itself, but all these concepts around coding. So for like the first one code jumper, um, the first code jumper lesson, our guided activity is input and output. So we have our vocabulary, we have a list of the materials you're going to need, you know, which code jumper pods, or if there's other, um, materials such as the computer science journal and then all the instructions, they're exactly what you need to do step by step of how to work through the lesson and how to set up the program.

Robin Lowell:

So there's pictures and explanations and captions of which pods to use and how to connect them to the hub and what, um, the, uh, the app will look like. So what the code actually looks like. So after we go through that guided lesson, where that, where the teachers are really doing more, um, the instruction and more, um, handholding through the lesson to kind of get those concepts, we have the opportunity for exploration. So these are opportunities where we have a similar vocabulary, if not the same, we have all of our materials, but the students are really going through and, um, working on the projects independently. So understanding what they're doing, and I'm having an opportunity to show their knowledge, um, when with code jumper, uh, when you take the program apart, it does not save. So a lot of these lessons will, all of these lessons have opportunities for students to write or explain or show in their computer science journal, uh, what they learned in the lesson.

Robin Lowell:

So we can really collect that data about, about their learning and knowledge. And the computer science journal is not really a journal like a paper journal. It can be, but these are really concepts that, um, students can write in whatever mode they want, if they're using a computer or if they're using a braille note or if they're using pen and paper. So there's a lot of opportunities for students to really collect their knowledge in one place and go back into, refer to it. And at the end of every lesson, we have, um, standards and our check for understanding. So there's always opportunity for the teachers to, and family sick connect with the learning and seat. Does my student understand what's going on? And so there's a lot of great resources in here. Start to finish in a very, um, user-friendly easily digested way for teachers and parents to learn about the basics of coding using code jumper.

Jonathan Wahl:

I want to talk about that easily digestible way, because I've talked with both teachers and parents who get so excited about code jumper, but then they get, I can see the nervousness and they say things like, you know, this is awesome, but I'm not a computer science teacher. I just don't know if I can teach coding. What is your message to them? Can they teach code jumper? Can they work with their students or with their children with Code Jumper?

Robin Lowell:

Absolutely. So one of the things I love about Code Jumper is if we think about it, you know, coding programs are not always accessible for all of our students with visual impairments. And so we see can adapt them and modify them. And, but it's not always just, right. So with Code Jumper, it's really this idea from the beginning, yes, I can code, but that doesn't only apply to our students and our, it applies to the parents and the teachers because they also need to be modeling that idea of I can code. And if they're willing to put the in and really think about, Mmm, they're going to pass that along to their students. And what's really great about the code jumper curriculum is it is broken down into those steps of first, you do this and then you do this next. So it's a step by step process that, um, the, the teacher, the instructor has the opportunity to learn, right, a long with your students. Cause you can read through the lesson and be able to teach that concept right away. You don't have to go out and learn a bunch of super fancy computer science words or technology. Everything is right there and it's really easy to break down each step and, um, figure out what you need to do. Step one, this is what you need to do. Step two Robin, you spent many years in the classroom working with students with visual impairments. Why is code jumper so important? There are actually a lot of reasons why code jumper is so important, but to me, the most re the most, the biggest reason, um, that code jumper is so important is we are telling our kids that yes, you can. From the earliest of ages, we have, I worked with students in kindergarten and using Code Jumper where they can dive in and we're not having to modify.

Robin Lowell:

We're not having to adapt. We're not having to say you can do part of this. They are fully immersed in the experience alongside their peers. So everyone in the classroom has the same experience with coach jumper. So what we're telling our kids is yes, you can, and you will be able to continue to cause they can move from code jumper to the tech space, coding languages. And then there's a, not a lot of undo, meaning there's not a lot of doing well, you couldn't do the texts, the block based coding, but now you can't, but there's that whole, um, thought process process of, well, I couldn't before. Why can't I now? And so the more opportunities we have to create inclusive experiences for our kids, where they can work alongside their peers and say, I'm just as able as my friend, the better and code jumper is one of those opportunities to, um, really experienced that I have worked with, um, a lot of high schoolers with a lot of technology. And, um, I had a student who is now in grad school, reach out to me and say, thank you, thank you for teaching me the technology in high school. So now when everybody around me is panicking, I know what to do. So we're giving our students the opportunity. Not only to say yes, I can and I'm going to, but we're giving them those advocacy skills to be able to say, I know I can't, and this is what I need.

Jonathan Wahl:

Thanks Robin. I know all of us at APH have been just so excited and we've just really enjoyed getting to work with you on this project. We appreciate everything you've done and we're excited to see code jumper, continuing to change lives in the future.

Robin Lowell:

Thank you. Yes. This has been such an amazing experience. Not only, you know, from the concept of code jumper, only seeing the prototypes and then getting to take that and give it to a student for the first time they've experienced coding and those light bulbs going, Oh, you mean an algorithm is a list of steps to complete a task. Oh yes, we have to debug. So yet this opportunity that I have had with APH to really dive into code jumper has, um, not only, um, giving me more experience with coding with students, but has really broadened my, my expectation of what we can ask of our kids. This shows that we can have coding with our five and six year olds or seven year olds, and that they do have the opportunity to, wow, this was everything.

Jonathan Wahl:

I think that they can do exciting things for the future. Thanks Robin.

Robin Lowell:

Thank you.

Jonathan Wahl:

If you want to learn more about code jumper, just head over to codejumper.com. You'll find videos, articles, the curriculum and more. That's it for today. Thanks for listening and be sure to look for ways you can be a change maker this week.