Area Educators Learn to Learn at Computer Science Institute
Area Educators Learn to Learn at Computer Science Institute

St. Anne's-Belfield School hosted its annual Learn to Learn summer professional development program in July with a Computer Science Institute open to area educators. Fifty participants from 15 private schools, public school systems, and youth programs took part in the two-day event.

"We wanted to open the Institute to local educators so that we could begin to build a broader computer science education community," said event co-coordinator and School computer science instructor Kim Wilkens, who is also the founder of local nonprofit Tech-Girls.

"In doing so, we can increase access to computer science for all students, and demystify computer science for K – 12 educators. In fact, explicit goals of the Institute were that all participants would begin to build their own networks of support, have hands-on experience through our workshops, and leave with a lesson plan that they can integrate into their own teaching this year."

The July 27 Learn-a-Thon began with a keynote address from Jeffrey Spies, co-founder and chief technology office of the Center for Open Science. He told the audience that he often discusses "learning to learn," and described for them the pedagogy he uses with collegiate interns to avoid giving them answers or teaching them processes, and instead developing them into independent learners able to use resources to solve any problem.

"We need great technologists to solve the big problems we face in the world," he said, before noting that independent learners are not necessarily alone and that no one is ever truly alone when they have an Internet connection.

From Google to Stack Overflow to peers and local experts, Spies discussed that learners can learn anything with these resources and thus are unlikely to feel under-resourced as a result.

"This is learning how to learn," he told the group. "Mentors provide tips, they provide information on how to find answers."

Spies also discussed that learners are more motivated when they are in an environment that emulates the real world, and meaningful, real world projects are more likely to naturally increase diversity amongst those attracted to work on them. Spies shared too his tip for rethinking frustration: think of it as a cue that help is needed or the problem is too big and rather than asking for answers, ask for tips to find answers.

Following Spies' presentation, attendees were able to attend self-selected workshops including Bootstrap in Math, Open Data for Teachers, Robot Petting Zoo, Physical Computing with Arduinos, Intro to Scratch with a Science Teacher, and more.

The Friday, July 28 Design-a-Thon kicked off with ReinventED Lab, and David Chen and Jennie Chu of the University of Virginia delivering a design thinking overview followed by a day's worth of workshop challenges led by educators from St. Anne's-Belfield School, U.Va., Albemarle County Public Schools, SmartCville, and Mozilla.

"I think we were able to share the message that through the study of computer science, students hone their design thinking, logical reasoning, and problem-solving skills in ways that can be applied to solving real world problems in each and every discipline," noted Institute co-cordinator and School computer science teacher Zach Minster.

"Computer science is not a definitive body of knowledge so much as it is a set of principles used to solve problems. We share an imperative as K-12 educators to prepare our students for a future where problems are complex, abstract, and yes, at times technological."

The Computer Science Institute took place at an exciting time in the history of education in Virginia. In 2016, the commonwealth became the first state to add computer science requirements to its core academic requirements for elementary, middle, and high school students and summer 2017 was the beginning of the development of related curriculum standards. Just days before the Institute, Governor Terry McAuliffe announced a new campaign, "Virginia is for Computer Science Lovers," a partnership between CodeVA and the Virginia Tourism Corporation to highlight the educational and career opportunities to be found in computer science cybersecurity across the state and the world.

To read related coverage, visit Charlottesville Tomorrow. Photos from the event are now available on the School's SmugMug account.