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Webinar recap: Tools, ideas, and strategies for creative computing in afterschool

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Webinar recap: Tools, ideas, and strategies for creative computing in afterschool

Providing students with the tools and knowledge they need to become creators of technology, not just consumers, is a growing priority for afterschool programs across the country. Many are building from the ground up and running into issues like identifying technology, tools, and curricula to meet their goals. Additionally, it can be challenging to train and support facilitators—either afterschool educators or other community volunteers.

In our webinar on Wednesday, December 6, two inspiring speakers working on these issues presented insights and resources: Sarah Carter, from SciGirls, shared tips on choosing tools and developing curricula, and Ricarose Roque, of the University of Colorado, Boulder, shared her model for family engagement called Family Creative Learning. To get the full experience, watch the recording and view the presentation slides. Be sure to check out the hashtag #CSEdweek to see all the conversations happening on social media!

Getting clear on definitions and goals

There are a litany of terms used when talking about creating technology—"computer science," "coding" or "programming," "computing," "tech skills," "media literacy," and more! Our speakers told us that being specific and intentional about using these terms, particularly when defining your program’s focus and goals, is incredibly important. It is key to think about what’s most appropriate for the out-of-school time environment and ensure that we meet youth development or other philosophical goals.

For example, Sarah explained that the approach to her current project, SciGirls Code, is shaped by a blend of computational thinking and connected learning principles, and is founded on the SciGirls Seven, a set of research-based gender equity strategies. Ricarose has developed the concept of “Computational Creators”, which means the goal is for students is to be able to use computing to create things they care about, develop identities as creators, and see the ways they can shape the world. All educators should spend some time considering the vary approaches and frameworks out there to determine the best approach for their students and community needs.

Choosing technology with SciGirls Code

You might know SciGirls as the Emmy award-winning PBS television show that follows a group of middle school girls having STEM adventures. But it’s also an organization dedicated to gender equity in STEM, pursuing research, developing high-quality activities, and providing educator supports through SciGirls CONNECT. The 2018 season, debuting in Ferbuary, is all about computer science. SciGirls Code is currently piloting an initative with 16 afterschool programs around the country. As a first step, the team identified four key criteria in selecting technology for the pilot. Technology must be:

  1. Open-ended
  2. Come with existing/adaptable curriculum
  3. Have a robust user/learning community (which can help support both educators and students)
  4. Possibility for browser-based or mobile development environment

They landed on four focus areas, chosen in part because they aligned with the episodes in the upcoming SciGirls season. For each of these, they explored and tested multiple technologies and platforms:

  1. Computational thinking and unplugged activities – They landed on Code.org to focus on the key concepts of looping, sequences, and variables, and also pulled from the Technovation curriculum.
  2. App development or “location-based augmented reality” – They went with Thunkable, as it provided a robust learning community and offered an easier interface for girls to use.
  3. Robotics – Hummingbird Duo proved to be best option as it used Arduino, therefore providing some exposure before the next curricula unit…
  4. E-textiles – LilyPad was the choice for this theme, but Sarah also noted that you have to build in time to teach sewing, and provide a reminder for how circuits work. They used Chibitronics, which are stickers to create flexible circuits. The book, Sew Electric, was provided for all educators in the pilot.

Engaging caregivers with Family Creative Learning

Family Creative Learning is a workshop series that engages children and their parents to learn together — as designers and inventors — through the use of creative technologies. Ricarose has been leading the collaborative design of the workshops with educators and coordinators in schools and community organizations like Boys and Girls Clubs in the Boston, MA and in Santa Fe, NM areas. They are foremost designed to strengthen the social support and expertise of families with limited access to resources and experiences around computing. There are three key components to the workshops:

  1. Learning together - As they create together, families learn how to support one another in their learning from asking questions, giving feedback, and persevering through challenges.
  2. Engaging in making - Children and their parents engage in design-based activities using creative technologies, like Scratch and MaKey MaKey to create their own personally meaningful projects.
  3. Building connections - Children and parents also connect with other families, by sharing meals from local restaurants, engaging in inter-family activities, and sharing their projects.

You might choose to implement the Family Creative Learning series as a complement to ongoing computer science initiatives with students, or as a new way to ramp up your family engagement strategy! Whatever you do, here are Ricarose’s parting strategies:

  1. Focus on building relationships as much as building projects
  2. Allow parents to have first-hand experience
  3. Address the different needs of families
  4. Choose creative technologies that allow them to express their ideas and interests
  5. Shift from being instructors to being facilitators

This summary only captures a fraction of the conversation on the webinar, so make sure to watch the recording in it’s entirety and browse through the presentation slides!

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