Adam at the Code.org K-5 Affiliate Summit held in Chicago, Illinois.
As part of our CS Ed Week series, today we’re interviewing STEM teacher and Code.org K-5 Affiliate, Adam Carr.
I had the pleasure of meeting Adam during an Educator Workshop last month, and his passion for what he does is contagious.
Tell us about yourself. What classes/activities do you teach or sponsor?
I teach at Bridge Creek High School SW of OKC where I have been teaching for 13 years. My degree is actually in field biology from Southwestern Oklahoma State University, and I spent most of my teaching career teaching math. I really just love learning and teaching, and feel most rewarded when working on new or big challenges.
I currently teach an introduction to programing class, robotics, and yearbook. My programing class introduces computers as a tool humans create with, by working with Scratch, HTML, and making video games using the Construct 2 game development platform. My robotics class is actually a competition team that competes in the FIRST Tech challenge, a robotics competition hosted by FIRST, that has students develop an 18x18x18in robot to accomplish standardized tasks on a predesigned field. My Yearbook class focuses on using technology to create the aesthetics of the yearbook- we learn about digital photography, layouts, and photo editing using professional tools like Photoshop but also open source programs like GIMP.
Outside of the classroom, I coach the high school academic team, film for the football team, drive a bus for wrestling and cheer leading, as well as organize the elementary and middles school after school robotics programs. When I can squeeze in the opportunity, I host professional development opportunities for elementary school teachers to learn the K5 Computer Science curriculum created by Code.org. In the summer I like to play Legos with my daughters, take on a wood working project or two, find new technology resources for my classroom, and I like reading.
How’d you get into the field?
I have always enjoyed building things. The very human challenges of incorporating the Internet of Things into our daily lives seemed like an issue schools should be introducing to students but weren’t, not for lack of will, but lack of resources. So, I decided to be a resource my school could use to make things happen in computer education.
I started my robotics team as an after school program, using my own time and some GT dollars the school had given me. As I got things going the school saw the potential and wanted to do more, it’s now been a class for the past three years. My principal a few years before wanted to be offering more computer courses, and wanted to capitalize on using computer courses to count for math credit when taught by a math teacher. That was my first chance at teaching in the computer science discipline, my own experience with the subject was limited but I found that there were lots of free tools online that could be used to make a class, though my primary assignment was still math. When the position came open to teach computers all day I felt very strongly that we push our course offering to go beyond desktop publishing, the administration agreed and let me move from the math department to computers.
Why are you passionate about STEM education? Why do you think teaching STEM courses is important?
Two personal observations fuel my passion for STEM education, specifically computer science education:
- Students don’t inherently see themselves as creators, but rather consumers of technology. The pervasiveness of technology in our society sets up this illusion that technology is something that always has been and will be. I feel it very important that students see that creating new technology is something anybody could do, and that the technology we have today is made by people just like them. All it takes is effort and want to.
- Economic necessity, technology has reached the price point where the opportunity for innovation exist not just in computer science as a discipline but every discipline, every profession, every vocation, will reward those that incorporate the technology into day to day operations, increasing efficiency and productivity. All walks of life will benefit from incorporating computer science. Those that can’t, create let alone use those innovations, will be impaired by the changes, if as a nation we are not at least sharing in these innovation we will suffer as a nation. We owe it to our children and our own economic prosperity to be teaching computer science as a core discipline, and stressing the creative applications of computer science to do work.
Sometimes STEM subjects can be a little dry to teach. What do you do to keep it interesting and make sure your students are engaged?
Video game design- it incorporates physics, math and computer science, plus offers a unique incentive for students to apply persistence in problem solving. I have also found that web design, specifically with cascading style sheets, is good way to introduce students to the power of classifying and labeling.
In my programing classes I am always on the look out for opportunities to stress computer science as field that requires team work, collaboration, solving problems for the larger population. Being proactive about re branding computer science as something people to do as a team effort to create products that help people, I think is important to keeping any potential student engaged.
We’ve heard for a long time that girls are underrepresented in STEM fields. Do you see less interest at the high school level? What do you think can be done to encourage girls to participate?
My programming class is very representative of the larger student body, but then we only have 430 in the high school so options are limited for them to go somewhere else. I do find it harder to recruit girls to robotics and harder to recruit guys to yearbook. I know that some of those preferences are set before they ever see the choice of enrollment, which is why I started the elementary and middle school robotics programs after school, to provide opportunity for all students to see themselves as technology innovators. I feel at the younger grades it has been successful in maintaining diversity, and I hope it pays off as those students come to the high school.
With the HS girls in robotics, which is about a third of the team, I try and give extra energy to making sure they feel engaged in the project, listening to how they see their ability to contribute, and connecting them to resources. The girls that have come to robotics have been those that gravitate to the service learning projects we do, like taking robots up to the children’s hospital, or the YouTube or Twitter accounts we keep for the team. However, it happens every year, boys jump into building the robot, reach a plateau, then a girl on the build team or not, sits down with the robot and comes up with that fresh, alternate perspective that pushes the design forward again.
You have daughters- is it important to you that they’re exposed to STEM?
I want my daughters to grow up seeing technology as a tool they are powerful to create with, but I know that creating anything is often a team effort, and teams need diversity to be strong. My oldest daughter does like to build with Legos and program robots, but she builds different things than I do. She doesn’t like to program alone, even though she can, she likes feeling like she did something with somebody.
Gender and ethnic diversity are not only moral goods that we owe it to each other to protect, but they benefit productivity and innovation for the sake of team. Boys and girls are different, but differences are not labels we should put on each other, that stifles the potential contribution of the individual and so the team. Differences are something we should relish in each other, something we should celebrate as the key ingredient that allows the team to be greater than the some of its parts. As much as gender and ethnicity have differences, on a personal level when I work with someone, it’s not my place to label what those differences will be, its my joy to discover what those difference could be.
Tell us about your involvement with Code.org. How did you get into it? Why do you think it’s important?
When I was in the math department we saw the Hour of Code and thought that was a really great project and there was a chance of winning a classroom set of laptops, so we decided to do the Hour of Code for one day in every math class for the whole high school over the course of the CS education week. We did it, the kids loved it, we didn’t win the laptops.
That spring, Code.org sent out an email to those that had participated asking for people that would want to be apart of a new program to promote their K5 elementary curriculum. That sounded like something that was important to me and I had some experience with professional development, so I filled out their questionnaire and they invited me to be one of the first 100 K5 affiliates in the nation. I have hosted 11 workshops over the past year and a half and trained about 150 teachers in Oklahoma.
Are you or your school doing anything to participate in Hour of Code this week?
This will be our third year to do the Hour of Code for every student in the high school through the math department.
We’re working on a tech toy gift guide for tomorrow’s blog, what’s are some of your favorite tech learning tools or toys?
The Lego Mindstorm is probably my favorite because it so easy to create a physical robot that does a physical task. As you program it, you can watch what it does and get a more tactile experience for how to trouble shoot code. Programs like RobotC introduce a C based language and command line interface to programing the eV3 that elevates the kinds programing experience you can have with the eV3.
I would like to be playing with Arduinos and LittleBits but both those technologies are just electronics, the gears, arms and end effectors would all have to be created from scratch. With Legos the physical form and gears are pre-existing, standardized to fit together, and more known to the students. I’ve worked with students long enough to know that sometimes what they know and can do fast is actually a hindrance to their creativity, because they don’t always push themselves to do something new.
The Ardunio and LittleBits is enough of an unknown in terms of fabrication and that the cost of adding them to what I am doing is not an expense I can justify with the money I have, but I would really like to see what they come up with if they had to spend a little more effort planing what they want and how to make it.
What advice do you have for parents and other educators to inspire their kids to be more involved in STEM subjects?
Offer something, anything, whatever you can, the only thing that’s missing is the ability to get paid for your effort.
Start a code club, google has a new initiative called CS First, where they provide all the resources to do coding clubs from social media to game design. Web sites like Code.org, Code Avengers, Code HS, Code Combat, offer free curriculum to teach kids to codes in a variety of languages and interfaces. Partner with groups like TheDiv or TechJOYnt, to connect kids to resources.
A Lego Mindstorm has a lower learning curve, but a price tag of $350-$500. Products like LittleBits, Arduinos, or a new one I’m excited about, DashRobotics, not Dash and Dot, all have a much lower price point $50 to $200 but a little steeper learning curve.
No matter what the learning curve or your own ability, Youtube will teach you to do anything. Amazon has hundreds of books loaded with project ideas. The web is busting with resources to learn at whatever level you are and however deep you want to go.
I think the best thing, especially parents could do, is inspire curiosity and persistence in their kids. Next time a toy with a motor or light breaks, don’t throw it away, take it apart, see how it works. Try and put the components together in a new way. It’s not about knowing how to, it’s about the experience of figuring out how. Have the experience of discovery with your child. End the paradigm that technology has been, will always be, made by others who know, and you don’t. Learning and creating defines us a species, embrace it and let it be fun.
What’s your advice for kids who want to get more involved in technology or computer science but whose schools might not offer those courses?
Society should care enough about its own economic future to be greasing the wheels of future generations to be creators an innovators of the 21st century, but when society fails to prioritize the issues slapping it in the face, take matters into your own hands.
Instead of streaming 10 hrs of Sponge Bob, look up videos on cool Arduino projects, or cool Rasberry Pi projects. Make something, anything, identify a problem you could solve by making something, then make it. Don’t let anyone, especially yourself, say you can’t.
The Laws of Physics were not voted on by congress, they can’t be changed just because they don’t serve your purpose. You have to know them, understand them, and make them work for you, not against you. It’s hard, but not any harder for you than the billions of people who have lived before you, and their persistence created the world you live in. Everything around you has a secret to tell, about the physical world that can be bent or directed to do something new and interesting. The study of History is the story of how people figured out how to do stuff and changed world they lived in, getting inside a history book is getting inside the secrets of innovation for a million life times. If your history teacher isn’t teaching it that way, then get online and look it up, read a different book.
If you want to be powerful you have to know how things work now, so that you can make it do something new. School is not just about cramming facts into your brain that are going to fall out the day after the test. Just like an athlete lifts weights to get stronger, the tasks and challenges we do in school, especially math, are exercises for your brain that make you a better problem solver. Accept school as a challenge to train and mold your brain, then take your stronger faster brain, and make something that changes the world.
Regardless of what curriculum your school is able to give you, be the person you want to be. If technology is important to you then pursue it. Self improvement, making something new is hard work, but regardless of if your doing it in a class or on your own, it will only be as powerful as it personal. Own your own destiny.