Each month this year, we will be highlighting one member of the CS for All Teachers community.
Name: Vinny Chiaramonte
Occupation: I am a Computer Science teacher at Bumpus Middle School in Hoover, AL. I currently serve on the Alabama State Course of Study Design Team for the new Computer Science and Digital Literacy Standards. I work with A+ College Ready and code.org as a state facilitator for Computer Science Discoveries (CSD), an introductory computer science course. In addition to CSD, I also teach Exploring Computer Science (ECS). Before discovering those courses, I followed my own curriculum pulling from several resources available online.
Workplace: Robert F. Bumpus Middle School; Hoover City Schools, Alabama
Years in education: Eight
Years teaching computer science: Four
What is your background in computer science?
No background - just raw drive and willingness to learn. I was a social science teacher who took a job teaching CS. I dug right in and started learning as I was teaching. I am never afraid to say to students, “I don’t know, let’s figure it out together.” There are a vast number of resources available to learn from. I went through the Accelerated Intro to CS Course on code.org. I attend as many workshops and training opportunities as possible to further my knowledge and sharpen my craft of teaching. After my first year of teaching CS, I took Dr. Jeff Gray’s MOOC CSP4HS 2015 over the summer, and it really opened my understanding to the impact of CS in our world and the potential for student impact. After year two, I had the opportunity to go to CSPdWeek with Exploring Computer Science (ECS) and further my understanding of CS and pedagogy with CS concepts. This summer included the completion of year two with ECS and another week of training at CSPDWeek. I also received more training with code.org at TeacherCon for CSD and facilitator training. A+ College Ready has partnered with code.org to bring CSD to middle schools across the state of Alabama. I am thankful for the opportunity to lead and support other CSD teachers across the state as we implement CS in the middle grades.
Describe the most favorite CS project you have completed with your students.
We use MinecraftEdu and the ComputerCraft models to learn loops, conditionals, sequencing, iteration, comparative operators, and other programming principles. They have to program their turtles (like robots) to escape an obstacle course with a series of 18 puzzles, construct a bridge, and demonstrate the Fibonacci Sequence in a program. It’s pretty cool, and as a result, the dialogue about CS throughout the process is very rich.
As teachers, we try every day to inspire our students. When have you been inspired by your students?
When have I not been inspired by them?! They honestly inspire me almost every day with great questions and innovative ideas that challenge me to be better and never stop learning. The letters, the notes they write, and emails I receive from former students are probably what inspire me more than all the aha moments that happen in the classroom. I keep them in several growing scrapbooks to look back on as reminders for why I teach. They’re fuel for my teaching passion! It is difficult to choose the time I was most inspired by my students, so here is the most recent: It is the last day of school, and the students have already gone home. In walks Michael, a student from the first CS class I ever taught three years earlier. We talked and did some reminiscing. He shared opportunities he has had and future plans. I am reminded of just how bright he is, what we learned about CS together, and what I learned from him about computer hardware. He is a junior now, and to keep the story short, he is standing in the middle of my classroom looking around kind of taking in the room with this look of deep thought on his face. Then he says, “Yeah, this class is the whole reason why I am so interested in CS and engineering. It all started here. I don’t think I would have wondered as much about how things work or what’s behind the screen without being in this class.” My heart was full. That was my first year in CS; I barely knew what I was doing, but it worked! He got it. Michael started to look at the world around him with “how” eyes and decided to find out. Fuel for my teaching soul right there!
What is your proudest professional accomplishment?
I see my professional accomplishments woven into my students and their success and inspiration. If I had to choose a strictly professional accomplishment apart from learning how to teach CS effectively, it would have to be when I was selected as 2016-2017 Alabama Secondary-Alternate Teacher of The Year after having taught CS for less than two years.
What excites you most about the current state of computer science education in the US?
It is growing, baby! The conversations are happening all over the US about the potential impact of teaching CS in every classroom. Beyond conversations, though, are the actions people are taking to advance CS education. We are creating the necessary buy-in we need from stakeholders to integrate CS education in our schools. States are rewriting their Career Technology Courses of Study to include CS concepts. Several states are creating stand-alone Computer Science and Digital Literacy Course of Study Standards where none existed. My moonshot mantra is to see CS as the fifth core academic course alongside math, science, social science, and literacy. It is possible, and it is necessary if we want to develop students who are critical thinkers and solution-makers.
What is your favorite CS tool or resource?
This is a difficult question. I like a lot of the unplugged activities from CS Unplugged by Tim Bell. I also see a lot of value in the unplugged activities in CSD and ECS (many of which came from Tim Bell’s book). So I guess I would say the unplugged resources are my favorite. The students also seem to enjoy getting up and moving around with some hands on CS away from the computer screens.
What do you do to recharge when times are rough?
I like to get alone and just check out mentally or make something in my workshop. I am a pretty social person except when I do not want to be. I see myself as a turtle, sometimes I want to be out there and others times I need to pull in and clear my head space.
What are you reading right now?
The Innovator’s Mindset by George Couros
What do you enjoy most about participating in CS for All Teachers?
CS for All Teachers is a great resource to find good tools, build up your professional learning network, and develop a stronger CS community. I wish more people would take advantage of it and create more chatter. I know we would all benefit from a stronger community.