Students bring concepts to life with computer science

Ariadna Garza and Josue Vargas, eighth-graders at Gutierrez Middle School, created a skateboard with a safety feature that increases the visibility of skateboarders at night. Their project is part of a new class called Computer Science for Innovators and Makers that is now offered at all five Harlingen CISD middle schools.

With a little ingenuity, loads of software development and a dash of hardware design, students are discovering computer science concepts and skills by creating personally relevant, tangible, and shareable projects.

“The idea for the skateboard came from my love of skateboarding; I skateboard a lot. I usually go home late at night,” said Garza. “So I was like ok, I don’t like having my phone flashlight going because it drains my battery. It’s a simple solution to be able to see where I’m going and to help me be seen.”

The duo put their heads together to develop their concept using programmable blinking LED lights.

“We created a circuit underneath the board and attached it to a micro:bit,” said Vargas. “The program runs the lights, and it tells it for how long for it to light up. I’m curious, and like building things, so my favorite part is working with the electrical.”

With features like individually-programmable LEDs, programmable buttons, light and temperature sensors, motion sensors (accelerometer and compass), and wireless communication (via radio and Bluetooth), micro:bit can be anything the students create it to be.

It is a process students have learned well: identify the problem, find a solution, code it, and test it.

“What the students are doing it’s all exploration and discovery. I encourage them to take the chance and take the risk. Students lead their discovery, and I’m just facilitating it,” said GMS Teacher Veronica Caballero. “I’m amazed by what they create. The way they troubleshoot things is different from how I might troubleshoot things. I think that they can take away a lot of things from this course like collaboration, teamwork, problem-solving, and higher-order thinking skills.”

The 9-week computer science class and its counterpart App Creators that was implemented last year are both part of the Project Lead the Way Gateway curriculum.

Caballero said that while there is no particular order in which the students must take the classes, students may benefit from learning the programming fundamentals taught in Computer Science for Innovators and Makers before moving to App Creators.

PLTW Gateway seeks to engage students during the transitional middle-school years through hands-on collaborative activities in computer science, engineering, and biomedical science.

“It’s important to give students exposure to these areas; computer science is a big career field,” said Caballero. “Last year alone, there were at least 120,000 jobs outsourced to outside countries because we didn’t have enough students going into this field.”

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