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How One Educator is Breaking the Mold with Computer Science Education

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Making of a Mold-Breaker

It was winter break in snowy western Michigan and I was running wild through my grandparents’ house, begging my cousins to chase me. I was a quick-witted, boisterous, and maybe slightly obnoxious kid. While sprinting through the kitchen, I remember one of my uncles saying, “well they broke the mold with that one”. That stuck with me and now I bring that mold-breaking mentality into my teaching practice. 

My name is Jason Trumble, and I am an Assistant Professor of Education at the University of Central Arkansas. I research how teachers make connections between technology, pedagogy, and curriculum. I also teach pre-service teachers how to effectively incorporate technology into their teaching.  My goal is to develop teachers that break the same old pattern of teaching and testing, and lead by example. To me, a mold-breaker is someone who does things differently, creates new perspectives, and enacts change in an environment. Mold-breakers create patterns and reinvent themselves over and over again. I'm going to share a story about how a few of my students used Unruly Splats to become mold-breakers with computer science education. 

PE teachers learning computer science

Getting Started with Computer Science Education

A few of my students are future Physical Education (PE) teachers who love to work with kids, coaching them to be physically active and helping them develop healthy lifestyle habits. As a mold-breaker myself, I decided to challenge my PE teachers to incorporate elements of Computational Thinking (CT) and Computer Science (CS) into their physical education curriculum. As with most mold-breaking there was a little resistance until they had a clear understanding of how things worked with computer science education. We started with basic definitions of CT and CS. We discussed how CT is an analytic process for solving problems and replicating solutions and how CS is the study and use of computers. We focused on how  CT and CS work together to help people accomplish tasks through identifying task elements in computer science education, and then using tools to most effectively and efficiently complete the tasks. Then the fun started. 

Learn More About Coding Games

We opened a box of Unruly Splats and I explained how they work. The pre-service teachers downloaded the app and explored the tutorials. We started off by playing the running bases game that comes included in the app. I won’t tell you who won, but when these pre-service teachers started to move, I saw the first crack in that curricular mold.   That crack quickly became a chasm and they literally jumped into learning about computer science. Up to this point in the semester, we had focused mostly on theory and some communication technologies and my PE teachers didn’t seem too enthusiastic. However, when they saw me step on Splat 1, hear it ring, then run across the room and step on Splat 2, I saw these future coaches catch each other’s eyes and gave a nod in agreement that 'they were in' learning more about computer science education. They added more Splats and played multiple more game examples. Once they were comfortable with the games, they modified the code to see what would happen.

Teaching Computer Science In The Classroom

Over the next few weeks we prepared to host a big group of fourth graders from a local school to learn and experience computer science education. Two of my preservice PE teachers took the structure of the example games provided on the Splats and worked with the fourth graders to connect STEM in PE. At our big event, the future teachers facilitated a Dance Dance Revolution version of Whack-a-Mole and a relay version of the racer game. They had the fourth graders revise the games and develop their problem solving skills by explaining  their code and playing the games again. Here, you can see the fourth graders explaining their revised code together. They loved both games but they liked how they could customize the games even more. 

These preservice teachers are going to be incredible in combining teaching computer science with PE. They will be the ones that inspire all their students to be mindful and physically active. The best part of being a mold-breaker and helping my teachers break molds is hearing and seeing change happen. 

Here is Jamison sharing his thoughts about teaching kids computer science education with the Splats. He even shares about how the students were able to problem solve after corrupting the code.

This post isn’t really about Unruly Splats, although it was a catalyst for change. This post is about breaking out of the mold that says computer science education and physical activity don’t go together. It’s about changing the perception that what we learn in PE doesn’t connect to other subjects. Like embracing STEM in PE, it's about being a mold-breaker teacher who is willing to try something new and learn through the process. It’s about reaching and teaching computer science to kids in new and unique ways. I’m not sure this is what my uncle meant all those years ago, but I’m proud to have broken the mold. I hope you break the mold with your learners too. 

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Unruly Studios makers of Unruly Splats, programmable, stompable floor tiles that help kids learn fundamental coding skills through recess-style play. Best for elementary and middle school students from PE to science or coding class, a great addition to the classroom for active STEM coding and play!

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