Lisa Floyd is a Mathematics and Computer Science teacher with the Thames Valley District School Board. Currently on leave, she is Director of Research and Inquiry for Fair Chance Learning and an adjunct professor at Western University teaching Computational Thinking to Teacher Candidates.
I had the opportunity to interview Lisa for this blog and got to find out a little more about her passions for family, education, Mathematics, Computer Science, and Computational Thinking.
Doug: My first question is always this. Where did we first meet face to face?
Lisa: It’s strange. I believe it was at CSTA in Baltimore recently, but because I’ve followed your blog and have heard about the inspiring work you’re involved with, I felt like I had already met you. I know you’re an inspiration to many educators, including those who you’ve taught at the University of Windsor.
Doug: And what were you doing in Baltimore?
Lisa: I was attending the conference with my husband Steve, who was the sole Canadian receiving an award for excellence in teaching computer science (#proudwife)..
Doug: I’ll admit that I was so surprised to see your father-in-law there. He and I have a long history in the educational technology field in Western Ontario. It was great to have a little chat with him to catch up. We covered a few years in minutes. He’s a very proud grandfather.
For those in the field of Computer Science, there most certainly was something there for everyone. What were your takeaways from the Computer Science Teachers Association conference?
Lisa: For me, it was just so wonderful to connect with like-minded individuals who have a passion for Computational Thinking (CT). I was able to meet a few people face-to-face, including Todd Lash who is doing interesting research on CT for his PhD and Grant Smith of LaunchCS (@LaunchCompSci), who I had connected online with previously about coding. They are doing some inspiring work with CT and I was able to attend their sessions too! I was also excited to meet Miles Berry in person and attend his wonderful presentation (here’s a pic)
Doug: One of the big and important issues of the day is getting women involved in Computer Science and other areas of technology. What drew you into this field strongly enough for you to decide to make it your profession?
Lisa: My first teaching job included a line of computer science and I fell in love with the subject and teaching it even more. I spent hours and hours learning how to program and loved the challenge and the thinking involved. I felt like I had found a best kept secret subject to teach. I continued teaching computer science for 14 years and made sure that I was properly preparing my grade 12 students by taking computer science university courses at Western in the evening. I noticed something special in my own students when they were programming a computer together and I never stopped teaching it! Thankfully, my husband was also teaching it so we could bounce ideas off each other.
Encouraging young women to take high school computer science has been a personal initiative of mine. Even with a female as their computer science teacher, I only had one to two girls in each of my computer science classes and this is consistent across Ontario and even around the world. I believe that we need to expose girls to computer science at a younger age so that they won’t be as intimidated to take it as an elective in high school. Since doing outreach, the computer science classes I had been teaching at the high school I’m on a leave from has grown 5 x. Girls also need more female role models, and so having the girls who are taking computer science volunteer at elementary schools also makes a big difference.
Doug: One of the remarkable things about Computer Science courses is the high student success rate. Have you noticed the same thing with your classes? Any theories why?
Lisa: Yes! The success rate is high… I believe it’s partly because of the choice students have when creating programs and they are motivated to complete their work due to the immediate feedback and the opportunity to create authentic and meaningful projects. Given the nature of computer science, I was able to provide ongoing formative feedback on a daily basis. The low floor and high ceiling attribute of computer programming that Seymour Papert describes is also helpful… every student is challenged. It’s what he calls, “hard fun”.
Doug: Do you have a preference for educational programming languages?
Lisa: I try not to get hung up on languages… if students really want to learn another language, different from what we are doing in class, I don’t mind. I used Turing for years, and loved it because it is a learning language. It’s about the big ideas and thinking involved and all programming languages have the same programming constructs…there’s just varying degrees of syntax that might make for some languages to be more challenging than others to learn. My approach is to not solely focus on those students who will be pursuing computer science in college or university, but to support every student with understanding how programming works. More recently, I’ve used Python, Visual Basic and Java. I also used Arduino when we brought in the microcontrollers (great for more hands-on work). In the outreach that I do for elementary students, I prefer Scratch.
Doug: That’s a nice collection of contemporary programming languages. You can’t miss with any of them.
There has been much interest in the area of Computational Thinking in the past few years. What it actually means differs from person to person. What does Computational Thinking mean to you?
Lisa: I’ve done a lot of research on Computational Thinking and I’ve also noticed the varying definitions even among experts. To me, it’s a special way of thinking that includes an array of components – pattern recognition, decomposition, abstraction and iteration. It helps students to effectively approach problems in all subject areas, but coding is a great context for developing Computational Thinking skills. For anyone looking to learn more about Computational Thinking, especially as it may support math learning, I encourage them to consider attending the Symposium on Computational Thinking in Mathematics Education on October 13-15th, 2017 at UOIT. This Symposium is sponsored by the Fields Institute for Research in the Mathematical Sciences (Fields); University of Ontario Institute of Technology (UOIT), Faculty of Education, and the SSHRC partnership development grant on Computational Thinking in Mathematics Education (ctmath.ca). The symposium is also supported by the Mathematics Knowledge Network, NSERC, and Ontario Ministry of Education. You can register here.
Doug: At Western University, you focus entirely on Computational Thinking with Teacher Candidates. What does your program look like? What do these students leave with as a result of being in your classes?
Lisa: I have taught two courses at Western – one for all primary/junior teacher candidates, called ‘Computational Thinking in Mathematics Education’. We focused on using coding to enhance understanding of math ideas. The Computational Thinking piece was integrated into the math learning. We used a lot of the ideas developed by Dr. George Gadanidis (researchideas.ca). The other course I have taught is part of the STEM cohort for intermediate/senior math and science education teacher candidates. We tried out coding and digital making activities that they could use with their math and science high school students. Most students felt nervous about the course at the beginning, but by the end they appreciated looking at math from a different perspective. For the P/J teacher candidates, we focused on developing their efficacy for math and Computational Thinking. The program was a blended learning model, with half being online and half face-to-face.
Doug: Is the program unique to Western or are other Faculties of Education offering the same or similar course?
Lisa: It’s unique to Western, but there is a similar course at UOIT in their preservice program.
Doug: Do you find Teacher Candidates generally prepared and ready to learn the principles?
Lisa: No… most come with little or no experience with coding. I do a survey at the beginning and it’s usually close to 90% of the P/J teacher candidates who have done no coding. We have to work a lot on mindset, and you can see the shift in this on the mind maps that were being co-created throughout the course. It’s almost like we were causing a disruption in the approach to learning and teaching mathematics, and there is research that shows this might be what’s necessary to change the way math is taught to make it a more applicable, meaningful subject for our students.
Doug: Does Social Media have an impact on your Teacher Candidates? Are they ready for BYOD Classrooms, students with their own devices, and to amplify their voice and presence with social tools?
Lisa: I find teacher candidates to be proficient with some technology such as computer and personal device use, and use them readily in class. I was surprised at how few are on Twitter and tried to encourage them to explore it to develop a Personal Learning Network (PLN) and to stay on top of current trends in education. I noticed they were active on SnapChat and they were often proudly “snapping” photos and videos of some of the programs they coded or the robotics they were programming. They appreciated learning how their devices actually work and most were quite comfortable with the technology piece. Some shared their learning publicly with others over social media and inspired pre-service and practicing teachers around the world. One group joined our Teacher Learning and Leadership Program (TLLP) #mathedcoders for their alternate placement and their ideas and work with students related to coding was shared widely. At one point, they were doing a webinar for students and teachers in northern Ontario, thanks to Stacey Wallwin, who is an inspiring leader in educational technology in Superior Greenstone District School Board.
Doug: I know that you have three wonderful children. (Derek told me) Is Computational Thinking and Computer Science a “thing” around the Floyd household? If so, how?
Lisa: I would say Computational Thinking is embedded in pretty much all of our daily routines and activities. Steve and I have similar parenting styles. Our children aren’t signed up for many activities, but sometimes our household seems like a makerspace. We do have every robot and digital device imaginable, but our oldest two boys are mostly interested in playing minecraft together. We do some coding, but try not to overdo it. We really have no idea what we’re doing as parents, and are learning every day, but feel pretty confident in how we embed the Computational Thinking aspect (both intentionally and unintentionally). Our oldest has attended some of our Fair Chance Learning events as a “helper” and Martha and Dustin Jez (co-founders) have been so supportive of this.
Doug: I did have the chance to interview with Martha Jez. You can read it here.
In addition to all this, you are the Director of Research & Inquiry at Fair Chance Learning. That’s an exciting title. What are the areas of your research? Are they published anywhere?
Lisa: I love my job. I love doing research and am fortunate to work for a company that sees it as valuable. Everything I prepare for professional learning and speaking gigs is based on research articles that I’ve read in some form. I’m also an advocate for Inquiry-Based Learning and it’s been part of my practice since I first started teaching.
As part of my masters in math education (just completed the program last week!), I’ve been honoured to work as a research assistant for two professors of math education (Dr. Kotsopoulos formerly of Laurier, now at Huron University College) and Dr. Gadanidis. I learned so much from this position and was excited to be a co-author for academic papers that have been published. One is in the journal of Contemporary Issues in Technology and Teacher Education and is titled “Computational Thinking in Mathematics Teacher Education”. Another is currently freely available online in the Journal of Digital Experience in Mathematics Education and is titled “A Pedagogical Framework for Computational Thinking”. I learned so much during the process. I am excited about some of the other papers I’m involved with and am grateful to professors who include me, including Dr. Julie Mueller of Laurier University. These researchers are a source of inspiration and it’s an honour to know them.
Doug: As a result of your connections with Fair Chance Learning, you’ve hit the radar as a speaker, presenter, and keynote speaker. What topics do you address?
Lisa: I have the privilege to speak about Computational Thinking and coding and how I believe they can be implemented effectively in our classrooms. It is important that students’ curiosity, empathy and creative thinking skills are also fostered in the process. Kafai and Burke write about the idea of “Computational Participation” in their book Connected Code – Why Children Need to Learn Programming, and this to me, is the more modern view of CT, in which the collaboration and communication piece is also valued. I talk about why we need to support our students with learning how to code in a world where we are immersed in technology. Learning how to program helps our students to see the world in an entirely new way, as Douglas Rushkoff discusses in his book Program or be Programmed. As Rushkoff also points out, If we don’t support our students with learning this skill, it’s possible they may not fully understand what’s going on in the world around them and begin to feel like the technology knows more about them than they know about technology. This may seem like an exaggeration, but read about Big Data, Machine Learning and Artificial Intelligence, and it becomes clear that everyone should learn how programming works. Of course, the thinking piece and problem solving skills that will help our students across all subject areas and fields is what I believe should be one of the main driving factors in our push to get students coding. I’m in the process of working on my Keynote for the Bring IT, Together Conference right now:)
Doug: That must be an exciting experience to prepare for. After all, any connected Ontario educator worth their Twitter account will know all about @lisaannefloyd and will be excited to hear from one of their own.
Do you maintain a public list of places where you’ve spoken/presented?
Lisa: I do not, but you’ve inspired me to do so (working on it)… this interview is also reminding me to update my blog (thanks).
Doug: It’s success on my end when I get another Ontario Educator to update her blog!
If someone was interesting in hiring you to speak, how would they contact you?
Lisa: They are more than welcome to reach out to me by email at email@example.com or on Twitter (@lisaannefloyd). I especially love facilitating professional learning related to Computational Thinking.
Doug: Do you envision a time when Computational Thinking is just a concept that is universally embraced and we’ve moved on to something else?
Lisa: I actually hope that we will continue to focus on Computational Thinking and that rather than move onto something else, we will instead explore it further, adjusting how we approach it and improving the ways we implement it. There is still a lot of room for additional research on Computational Thinking and best pedagogical practice.
Doug: Thank you so much for agreeing to share your thoughts with my readers, Lisa. It’s always nice to be able to dig inside the professional practice of another Ontario Educator.
You can follow Lisa on Twitter at: @lisaannefloyd
She maintains her blog CODING IDEAS FOR EDUCATORS at: https://lisaannefloyd.com/
Over the life of this blog, I’ve had the opportunity to interview all kinds of amazing people and am happy to include Lisa on this list.
The list? You can check out all the interviews here. https://dougpete.wordpress.com/interviews/