A small but mighty elementary school in Kansas is making strides toward making computer science available to all students. Jennifer Mahin, Ozobot Certified Educator and K-5 STEM Teacher at East Elementary School, is continuing work to create inclusive opportunities to support and advance the tech sector across The Sunflower State. We recently chatted with Jennifer about her edtech tips, teaching strategies, and the state of CS in KS.
On tech tools she loved during the 20-21 school year…
This past school year we started using Seesaw as a learning platform in K-4 and I will continue to use that in the future. Seesaw allows consistency in any class with tools that are built right into the platform. It allows communication between teachers, students, and parents. It’s organized, engaging, and fun for students! Seesaw allows students to show what they know in many different ways. I was able to link activities from my Google Drive, Flipgrid, and even add in YouTube videos. You can create some really engaging and unique lessons inside of Seesaw. I created a brick building math activity and was able to incorporate an interactive dice, buildable bricks, and moveable pawns so the students could play by themselves or with a partner in the classroom or virtual.
With the pieces built in any student could access this activity with or without physical LEGOs. Another great feature is that there are so many premade lessons for educators to use, or you can share the lessons you create with the community. Seesaw is definitely a learning platform I will continue to use this year too.
On her favorite ways to incorporate Ozobot…
I completed a lot of Ozobot projects with my students over the past few years and there were two that really stuck out to me. I have been working to make my STEM lab more inclusive. I want to use picture books and projects that feature students of many different races and activities that celebrate different cultures. I want my students to see themselves and feel a connection to the lessons I am teaching. I used an Ozobot activity to teach students about Black History Month. As I was reading the objectives for the class, I had some confused looks. That’s when I learned that our students had limited knowledge of the history behind Black History Month and why it’s celebrated. Our school does not have a lot of diversity, but I took this opportunity to have some great conversations with students and dive in deeper to why we celebrate Black History Month and its importance. For me, that simple Ozobot lesson had a great impact on my students.
The second project would be our Balloons Over Broadway project. I had third graders create the New York city skyscrapers out of LEGOs. Our local Foodmart Thriftway donated balloons, and fourth and fifth graders created their floats for our Macy’s Day parade. This project was so much fun! The students got to be creative and they made some really unique floats. Then we attached the floats to Ozobots and placed them on our parade route adding some Color Codes for special effects. This project really came together from collaboration across various grade levels. We had six different classes from three grade levels working together to make this parade come to life.
On the state of CS on Kansas…
In June, the Kansas State Department of Education voted that computer science can now be counted as a core math or science credit toward high school graduation. We were the second-to-last state to make this change. I feel like there are a lot of great teachers doing great things across the state when it comes to CS, but I feel like our state could be doing better as a whole, especially when it comes to the elementary level. I am on the Ignister Board which is working to create an inclusive opportunity to support and advance the tech sector across Kansas. We’re doing this through the provision of education and employment resources. This board has connected me to a lot of great educators and really has allowed me to share my story of what we’re doing in our elementary school in rural Kansas. I think this group is going to help educate schools on CS and bring a positive change to Kansas. I can see there being more of a push for CS in the future, and I’m hoping to see more funding and opportunities for CS in both the high school and elementary grade levels.
One thing I am proud to say is that our elementary school is teaching CS to every student from kindergarten through fifth grade. A lot of districts offer this as a one semester class, an after school club, or it’s only available for gifted students. At East Elementary every single student is learning about CS multiple times a week. I’m hoping to see more of this in the future across the state.
On receiving recognition as Microsoft Innovative Expert Rookie of the Year for 2021…
An MIEExpert is someone who is leading digital transformation in education through Microsoft. I actually heard about this program on social media and from the Flipgrid Engagement Team. Through the Microsoft Education Center, I was able to take free courses and learn how to use Microsoft in so many different ways. This was my first year being an MIEExpert and it was such a great way to connect with a global educator community, learn new ways to innovate with tech tools, and share best practices. I was shocked to be selected as the rookie of the year, but it was such an honor. The MIEExpert community was very welcoming, supportive, and a great space to build your professional learning community.
Want to learn more about Jennifer? Check out her Twitter page!
Coding is Creative!
Tech skills alone don’t spur big ideas—creative visions do. That’s why education at home and in the classroom should span science, technology, engineering, the arts, and math (STEAM, not just STEM). Whether you see yourself as a future artist, astronaut, or entrepreneur, our goal at Ozobot is to kick start your creativity and coding skills with playtime that strengthens your whole mind.