Last May, we shared news that YES Prep Gulfton received a $20,000 grant from the Verizon Foundation and Project Lead The Way (PLTW) to start the PLTW Computer Science track at their campus. During the summer, Gulfton teachers Heidi Leventhal and Lanese Giles attended the summer training offered at the University of Texas at Tyler and kicked off the program this school year with 53 seventh graders total in two classes.
The Need for a Seventh Grade Computer Course
Prior to receiving this grant, Gulfton students took Computer Applications in sixth or seventh grade, but many seventh graders were taking a second year of this course with higher level, differentiated assignments.
Thanks to PLTW, seventh graders now have an opportunity to take new courses where they get to learn how to code and are introduced to the field of computer science.
The hope is that the PLTW program will help bridge the computer literacy gap between middle school and high school. Students would go from Computer Applications in sixth and seventh grade to AP Computer Science Principles in their sophomore year and/or AP Computer Science A in their junior year. The PLTW program will streamline the computer science pathway at Gulfton, giving middle school students an earlier introduction to this area. It will also allow students to explore additional career opportunities in this field and help them build the skillset they need to be successful in future high school courses and their careers.
Coders and App Creators
The two courses being taught are Computer Science for Innovators and Makers and App Creators. In Innovators and Makers, students use block programming to code micro-processors called micro:bits using PLTW curriculum and Microsoft’s MakeCode programming environment. Students learn how to code blinking messages and create security devices. In App Creators, students learn how to create cell phone Apps using the PLTW curriculum and MIT App Inventor.
In order to showcase what they have learned, Gulfton hosted its first Technology Showcase (Computer Science Night) on January 15. Students from Innovators and Makers presented their homemade security devices from the project titled “Secrets and Safes.” Concurrently, students from App Creators presented their final apps.
Opening the Door to STEM Careers
Thanks to PLTW, seventh graders taking these courses get to see that they too can belong in the field of computer science. By getting this first-hand experience, students can see that they are capable of building and creating technology and software today and in the future.
Many of the students participating in these courses have begun to embrace this field. Gulfton was invited to participate in an All-Earth Ecobot Drone competition on May 17. With Giles serving as the staff sponsor, nine students have formed a drone team, six of which are currently taking the PLTW courses.
All of these students have said that their interest in computer science was ignited by the PLTW courses they are taking.
Entering Year Two
PLTW program will continue next year, as it was initially a $20,000 grant for two years. YES Prep also has the opportunity to apply for an extension to continue the program in future years. Once a teacher is trained through PLTW -as Giles and Leventhal were—the school only pays a $500 licensing fee in order to teach it from year to year. For this year and next, that fee is covered by the grant.
When asked about this program, Giles shared, “We are so thankful to have this opportunity from Verizon and PLTW! Students are getting an incredible hands-on experience that wouldn’t have been possible without this grant funding!”
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