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Fifty teachers complete LU’s inaugural coding program offered in partnership with Apple

Lamar University’s Center for Educational Innovation and Digital Learning celebrated 50 teachers who completed the inaugural Professional Learning Program, offered in partnership with Apple. On Tues., May 11, LU PLPthe teachers gathered, as they have for 32-weeks, to reflect on their experiences, discuss the knowledge gained and congratulate one another.

The educators, from eight different school districts in the Houston and Austin areas, have expanded their coding and digital technology skills and gained 12 credit hours toward a master’s or doctoral degree through Lamar University’s online coursework with tuition reimbursement from Apple.

“I learned about the program while attending the Coding Academy in Houston in June 2019 and was interested in learning more about digital literacy, creating significant learning environments and electronic portfolios,” said Connie Sharp, librarian training and development specialist at Metro Nashville Public Schools in Nashville, TN. “I gained a much broader personal learning network, practices to improve teaching and learning as well as a deeper understanding of how to use Swift Playgrounds to teach coding.”

The teachers’ curriculum during the program focused on the active integration of coding concepts into K-12 curriculum.  With oversight from experts and mentor coaches, the teachers learned MacOS and iOS software, Swift and relevant coding applications. For example, lessons delivered included “Everyone Can Create” and “Everyone Can Code” curriculum, hands-on activities with “Swift Playgrounds,” “Sphero SPRK+” and other coding resources and a Community Challenge activity, which utilized “Design Thinking,” “Prototyping” and UI/UX design. 

“My favorite aspect of the program was attending the ‘Lead and Learn’ event in Arizona. There were so many different types of innovators, creators, educators and techies brought together to learn and share,” said Tara Bordeaux, director of Cinematic Arts, Media & Design at Navarro Early College High School, Austin, TX. “My favorite part of the event, and probably of this entire experience, was meeting Sady Paulson and watching her edit in person. It was magical, and as a filmmaker myself, it was one of the most moving moments I have ever experienced. That moment showed me the depth of Apple's accessibility features, and it inspired me to try and reach more students through technology. Honestly, this whole experience is one I will never forget.”

Initially, the program aimed to solve a national workforce problem. The U.S. produces approximately 68,000 computer science graduates a year, but four times that many are needed. However, when every school in the U.S. transitioned to alternate instructional methods in March, namely online learning, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, LU’s team of PLP teachers became invaluable problem solvers in their organizations and likely representative of a new normal in education.

“We envisioned that participants in the program would emerge and assume leadership roles as change agents able to utilize technology to advance educational outcomes,” said George Saltsman, director of educational innovation at Lamar University. “Little did we know their knowledge and expertise, newly gained skills and ability to create apps to solve problems, would make them immediately indispensable in this new learning environment.”

“The program started in the summer, so, since the beginning of the year, I had started to implement technology a lot more in my classroom,” said Juan Marquez, a sixth-grade bilingual STEM teacher at Youngblood Intermediate in Alief, TX. “By December, my students were tech-fluent enough to succeed with their assignments. When we were told to stay at home, it was not a big shock for my students, at least not in the technology area. I read and heard a lot of teachers and students that had big struggles to the new situation. The learning curve has been huge and it has not ended. With my students, their frustration level was not that big.”

Marquez said that because of his newly gained skills and knowledge he was able to stay connected to the students despite the inability to meet in a classroom.

“I implemented Minecraft Education Edition to teach my students and keep them engaged,” said Marquez. “I also learned and tried other apps so my students had more fun lessons at home, like using NearPod, Flipgrid, BrainPop, among others. All these apps helped me to emulate my face-to-face classroom from home.”

As the teachers saluted one another May 11, they looked to the next phase of their educational coding journeys. Apple has committed to providing scholarships for the teachers to continue their specific degree pursuits at Lamar University.

“The new normal of education is online, and Lamar University, through its robust online services, is helping to feed the need for more high-tech educated teachers,” said Saltsman. “Ultimately, K-12 students will receive ongoing lessons in technology and possibly even pursue technology-related jobs.”