Administrator Trailblazer

Aileen Owens

The South Fayette Township School District
2014 Winner for Administrator Trailblazer Award
About Administrator Trailblazer Award

Employs an audacious idea in order to empower teachers and students with the opportunity to learn school- or system-wide.

Provide an overview of the project, practice or product that your video represents, and how your work encompasses the principles and ideals of the award that you're applying for.

Hired in 2010, as Director of Technology and Innovation, my task was to “remake learning.” I began a K-12 computational thinking initiative, and with support of an amazing team of inspired teachers and administrators, began systematically embedding the engineering and design problem-solving process into the curriculum and simultaneously into connected learning initiatives. This is a snapshot of the pathway I have built over the last four years.

Students K-2 begin learning concepts of computer programming with block-based code through Scratch, building upon their experiences at each grade level, moving from block-based to text-based code by seventh grade. In grades 3-5, using motors and sensors, students use Scratch to program their Lego robots to move. By fourth grade students study electrical circuitry through eTextile design, programming Arduino boards with ModKit to make LED lights blink, then sewing the circuit into t-shirts with conductible thread. All 7th graders make apps for their mobile devices with App Inventor and transition to text-based code using Processing Language. I believe that connected learning experiences are as important as the curriculum we build, therefore students now have the opportunity to explore their passion in more depth in Scratch Clubs for intermediate school and an App Inventor Club for middle school.

In addition I developed an emerging innovation leaders program. This year the software development team won the National Congressional App Challenge for the 18th Congressional District for an app they created called Flashcards. Another student was appointed a She++ #Include Fellow from Stanford University for a program she organized to teach families about computer science. Additionally, a student team wrote and taught a course on Python and provided outreach to neighboring districts providing the curriculum and teacher training at no cost.

At every grade level, students are empowered by their ability to create.

Explain the long-lasting impact of what you've presented in this video, and provide any qualitative or quantitative data that supports this impact.

The long-lasting impact of this model is that we have transformed our school culture and are changing the way our students think. By creating a scaffolding of learning, transitioning from block-based code in the elementary years to text-based, and reinforcing computational thinking computational practices and habits of mind, we are incorporating the thought processes of engineers and computer scientists by teaching students to think logically, algorithmically, and recursively.

The prevailing mindset in grades 9-12, with students who have not yet experienced the computational thinking initiative, is that computer programming is too difficult to learn. In comparison, student surveys in grades 3-5 and 7th grade show that students engaged in block-based code such as Scratch, eTextile design, Lego Robotics, and App Inventor have a positive outlook toward computer programming and the confidence and desire to want to learn more. We believe that building this passion at an early age will help students continue to explore and accept the more difficult challenges in high school and beyond.

After 7th graders completed the unit on App Inventor and students in grades 3-5 completed Scratch, 85% of the 7th grade students indicated they wanted to “continue to learn more elaborate projects” as did 71% of students in grades 3-5. 81% of 7th graders indicated they “like the challenges and rewards of block-based code” as did 74% of students in grades 3-5. 86% of 7th graders believe that “computer programming will be easy to learn if I have help” compared to 68% of the students in grades 3-5. The Intermediate School offered a Scratch family programming night and 149 participants attended. The Inspire Series, averaged 260 participants for each event, with families attending to hear computer scientists speak about their career paths. There is no denying a transformation has occurred.