This week’s feature is an example of how collaboration and teamwork can set the tone for innovation and success. We are honored to introduce you to Principal Anne Jenks and Kindergarten teacher Letty Batista, both of McKinna Elementary in Oxnard, California.
Can you tell us about your path to becoming a school leader?
Anne: I’ve been in education for about 22 years; I taught for 13 before becoming an administrator. Teaching was a second career for me, I never dreamed of being a teacher until I started tutoring a 15 year old boy through Project Literacy. I went back to school while working full time, and got a teaching job mmediately. From there, I went back for my Masters and became an administrator. I came to McKinna in July of 2007.
How did you begin to integrate technology into the work you’re doing at McKinna?
Anne: We started doing weekly raffles for students who were following school expectations- I had a 6th grade girl win an iPod, and she didn’t know what it was or what to do with it. I knew we had to start integrating more technology for our students. We started with the Hour of Code and not everyone could see the value of it right away. I met with teachers and told them, “I’m asking you to do this for one week, as little as 20 minutes a day.” When they did it, they saw the engagement, the resilience in students, and they were on board.
How did McKinna go from the Hour of Code to teaching coding daily?
Letty: Ms. Jenks came to me and told me the Hour of Code was coming up. She gave me the iPads and said, “I’m asking you to do 1 hour of coding with the Hour of Code.” I immediately saw fascination in my students, the kind of joy that we try so hard to teach kids. It completely blew me away. After that, I asked Ms. Jenks if I could continue to teach coding and use Kodable with my class. I teach a bilingual class, and many of my students speak indigenous languages— we have so many standards to cover and so little time. I asked Ms. Jenks if I could adjust my schedule by shifting my calendar time to later in the day and she was supportive. The schedule shift allowed me to start getting coding time in daily.
How did you develop your instruction off-screen as you began teaching coding beyond the hour of code?
Letty: We were just getting started and learning together in the first year. The next year, I signed myself up for an Hour of Code workshop and I started teaching coding with unplugged activities. I needed to start on the right path to help them understand coding and how we can use it for math, reading, writing, storytelling, playing with blocks, etc. I started teaching coding with a curriculum and immediately noticed that children started practicing communicating in English naturally. Coding helps develop ESL students’ verbal skills and has improved students’ confidence.
What are you coding goals for the school?
Anne: I would like everyone to agree to 1 hour of coding a week, but I understand the time crunch that exists. I feel that coding is something that teaches “soft skills”- resilience, collaboration, the skills that are embedded in the Common Core. These make the learning more exciting and more relevant. Coding spills over into all of the subject areas and that is the value in it.
How are teachers supported as they get started with teaching programming?
Letty: Ms. Jenks and I present a lot for staff, and there’s a lot of communication around what we’re doing. All of our kindergarten teachers kind of set the pace for everyone else. Our first graders come in already knowing so much, the first grade teachers have their gamefaces on and are ready when their new students come in. We have an after school coding club and we are hoping to start doing monthly events with students and families, especially in the upper grades.
What advice do you have for schools wanting to get started with coding?
Anne: You should begin with the Hour of Code in December, it’s a great starting place to introduce teachers to coding. Teacher buy-in is absolutely vital. With everyone trying to wrap their head around the Common Core, asking for one week of something new seems doable. It’s one hour, there are options. The Hour of Code is a great starting point.