Thursday, October 12, 2017

CS Educator Interview: Bob Irving

Bob Irving teaches middle school students and seems to have a lot of fun doing so. He constantly learning new things to share with his students. He is half of of a great CS team at Porter-Gaud School in Charleston, SC. I interviewed the other half a couple of years ago – Doug Bergman. Between the two of them students have some great opportunities to learn computer science.

WHERE DO YOU TEACH? WHAT SORT OF SCHOOL IS IT?

I teach at the Porter-Gaud School in Charleston, SC. It's a 150 year old k-12 independent school with enrollment of about 900.

 
HOW DID YOU GET STARTED TEACHING COMPUTER SCIENCE?

I actually taught history and English in high school for years. Was an early adopter of computers (owned a Commodore 64!) and used them in my classes, eventually became a tech integration coordinator. Went back to school to learn application development, which included building business applications with databases. Plan at the time was to segue into development. Graduated just in time for the first tech bubble to burst! Decided to go back to teaching school and haven't looked back since!

 
DESCRIBE THE COMPUTER SCIENCE CURRICULUM AT YOUR SCHOOL. WHAT COURSES DO YOU HAVE AND WHAT ARE THE FOCUSES OF EACH?


We have a fabulous curriculum at Porter-Gaud, which was started by Doug Bergman. CS is a required course for all students from grades 5-9, after which students may apply to be in our program. Current upper school enrollment is about 35% of each class, with about that percentage of female participation.

I teach grades 5-8. I have each student in the middle school for a quarter. We just were able to institute required classes in 5 and 6 this year, so I am building those out. CSTA said middle school computer science should be about exploration with different technologies, and I heartily concur. So in our ever-changing landscape of tech, right now I am teaching the following in various grades: micro:bit, Kodu, Dash robots, LEGO robots, Scratch game programming, HTML, Minecraft Pi (intro to Python by coding Minecraft), Sonic Pi (live music coding), and physical computing using Raspberry Pi's. I have 2 networks of computers in my room: Windows 10 and Raspberry Pi. I use both according to what best suits the needs. As always, there are other things on the horizon that I am investigating for future use. Right now that includes 3 new 3D printers and MIDI controlled music, and looking into Makerspace stuff that fits with what we do.

 
WHAT IS YOUR OVERALL TEACHING PHILOSOPHY? PROJECT BASED LEARNING? FLIPPED CLASSROOM? IN SHORT, WHAT MAKES YOUR CS PROGRAM “YOUR CS PROGRAM?”

I live for the "aha" moments in education, and I think they are best achieved by having a very hands-on, project-based experience. I like to answer student questions with other questions ("Where do you think you could find help for that?" or "Have any of your neighbors figured out how to do that?"). I believe in giving as little direct instruction as I can get away with, though I do supplement lessons with videos on my YouTube channel (crouchingpython). Middle school students do not want to listen to me talk! But I am sensitive to those who are struggling and need some hand-holding!
 
WHAT IS THE BIGGEST CHALLENGE IN TEACHING CS AT YOUR SCHOOL?


I really can't complain. We have amazing support from our administration and have a lot of latitude to explore different approaches. One factor that helps us is being an independent school. That not only frees us from mandated teaching to various tests, but our CS program has become a major selling point to prospective families.

 
WHAT IS ADMINISTRATION’S SUPPORT (OR LACK OF SUPPORT) LIKE AT YOUR SCHOOL?

See above. We get financial support, as well as time in the schedule.

 
HOW DO YOU MEASURE SUCCESS FOR YOUR PROGRAM? FOR YOUR STUDENTS?

This is going to sound a little cheesy, but I measure it by the excited students who usually run into my classroom to get started! I'm always trying to up the engagement factor. I also get a wide range of interest and ability, so I try to make sure that those students who are self-described "not techy" are also getting it, are engaged, and leave the class feeling that all this coding and stuff is actually pretty cool.

 
WHAT IS THE ONE THING YOU LIKE TO TALK ABOUT REGARDING YOUR PROGRAM THAT I HAVEN’T ALREADY ASKED?


I promise my students on day one.... HARD FUN. This is something that I stole from one of my heroes, Seymour Papert. They all know exactly what I mean by that in a week or two! It's not easy stuff, but they want to make it work.

I also host a Minecraft Club here, which this year has over 70 members. This is just for "playing" Minecraft.

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