Sheena Vaidyanathan is currently the K-8 Teacher Representative on the Computer Science Teachers Association (CSTA) Board of Directors. She’s a very strong advocate for the teaching of Computer Science (CS) in the K-8 environment. Over the break, I had an opportunity to interview her.
Doug: Hi Sheena, thanks for agreeing to the interview. For people I know, I always like to challenge them with this question – where did you and I first meet?
Sheena: At my first CSTA board meeting – the 2015 conference planning meeting in Phoenix ? I am not sure, it could also have been at an earlier CSTA conference.
Doug: Computer Science instruction is something that we both have a passion for. What’s your background?
Sheena: I have an undergraduate and graduate degree in computer science and have worked in the tech industry in Silicon Valley. For the last 10 years I have been in education – teaching computer science, math and art.
Doug: In your “day job” with Los Altos schools, you’re heavily involved with Computer Science instruction. Can you offer some details about it?
Sheena: I have been teaching a CS program called CSTEM in all our elementary schools for 6th graders. I also do curriculum development and PD for the STEM teachers in our district who do some CS for all our K-5 students. I just started a pilot middle school CS elective. As a result now, every student in our K-8 district, from K to 8 has access to computer science education. There are 7 elementary schools, and 2 middle schools, so I travel to multiple sites each day, teaching about 500 students each week.
Doug: Who developed the program? Is it based on a program offered elsewhere?
Sheena: It was developed by me over the last 7 years and is based on my own interests in computer science, art and math. I get inspiration from the Scratch community and many other resources
Doug: If someone is interested in getting details about what and how your program works, is it readily available? A web resource perhaps?
Sheena: Some information on the 6th grade program component is available on the school site http://www.losaltos.k12.ca.us/District/Portal/cSTEM and some project ideas are on my personal website www.computersforcreativity.com
Doug: You’ve also been on the Board of Directors for the CSTA for a few years now with a responsibility for advocacy in K-8. What sorts of things have you been involved with?
Sheena: I have been part of the CSTA conference planning committees to see how we can offer a greater number of sessions relevant to K-8 teachers. Given the need for creating a strong teacher community, I help run a Google+ community and host Twitter chats to discuss various topics in CS education.
Doug: The Hour of Code is big and continues to grow. How do you see it successfully implemented in schools?
Sheena: The Hour of Code is an easy entry point for any school, and can be a great introductory unit for any teacher/class interested in this topic. For schools who are repeating the hour of code and/or already do some CS, they can use this time to focus on some other aspects of computing – for example looking at the impact of computing in our culture or the history of computing.
Doug: Is an hour enough?
Sheena: The hour is just meant to be just an introduction. The idea is that once we remove that initial barrier and prove that it can be done in the schools, there will be interest to create a program that goes beyond the hour.
Doug: If coding is to be successful in schools, it seems to me that it needs to be embedded into many subject areas. Where does the “new-to-coding” teacher turn for resources or ideas?
Sheena: Good question. There are a lot of starting places and perhaps a few too many tools and resources to choose from. I think the CSTA website and the Google+ community/Twitter chats that I mentioned earlier can be a good starting point to filter through these resources and pick what will work for your classroom.
Doug: How often are the chats? When is the next one?
Sheena: The chats that the CSTA K-8 group hosts are every 2 weeks. The next one is Mar 23 at 8pm ET using the hashtag #csk8. Archives and information on the twitter chats are on the Google+ community at http://goo.gl/Zx3Dh2
Doug: You and I both serve on the CSTA Conference committee. This year’s conference will be held in San Diego. What would attendance at the conference give the K-8 educator?
Sheena: The best professional development available on CS education. A chance to learn from real teachers in the classroom and also an opportunity to network and be part of the CS teachers community
Doug: If a K-8 teacher wanted to become a member of the CSTA, how would they do it? What’s the cost? What K-8 resources are available for them?
Sheena: Membership information is on the CSTA website and is free. Many resources are on the website and more available through their newsletters and other publications.
Doug: Thank you so much for the interview, Sheena. I’m sure that your comments will resonate nicely with many K-8 educators.
See you in San Diego!
You can check out all the interviews on this blog by clicking here.