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Mayfield breaks down ‘computer science’ silos with new coding course

Elisa Gonzalez ’19 spoke with the precision expressed in a string of JavaScript as she explained why she has been so captivated with her computer screen these days. “Right now in this world there is an absolute necessity to know coding,” she said. “By learning to code I feel that I am becoming part of a technological movement.”
Elisa is talking about her participation in a breakthrough program at Mayfield Senior School to teach every student a new language—the language of code. But in a new twist we are tapping into students’ creative side to learn this skill.

This school year all 330 Mayfield students will be taught how to use a web application call VidCode that introduces them to the fundamentals of JavaScript. Students will learn how to both create and code their own digital video projects—not just follow a prescribed tutorial.

“Coding is another means of communication and I feel very strongly that this is the language of the 21st century that we have to teach all of our students,” said Head of School Kate Morin. She said that the core coding concepts will be taught to every student and will instill a host of direly needed skills in today’s world: creativity, critical thinking and logical reasoning.

“As Holy Child educators we are called to prepare girls to meet the ‘wants of the age,’” Mrs. Morin said. “Our society needs our girls to be a part of filling the gender gap in computer sciences and engineering. But equally important, we are teaching problem-solving skills that are needed in virtually every discipline in today’s technology-driven workforce.”

Mayfield’s interdisciplinary effort aims to take learning code out of the “computer science” silo, integrating these skills into classes like English and social studies, said Melissa Tighe, mathematics teacher and Director of Innovation and Community Partnerships at Mayfield.

This fall 35 seniors have in a UC-accredited course to give them advanced skills to prepare them for college. Over the summer, 13 students took the class.

Using the VidCode platform that every student will begin to learn this year, the online course is under the direction of Visual Arts teacher Theresia Kleeman, who guides students and meets with them weekly. The program takes students through tutorials that define strings of code and then allows them to immediately create their own coding project.

For students, it’s like going behind the scenes of their favorite Snapchat or Instagram apps and learning step-by-step how to code the kinds of filters, memes, text and animation they enjoy using in their everyday forms of digital expression.

“Obviously we could get an app where you just drag and drop blocks in place and all the coding is already done,” said Annie Tighe ’19, who took the summer course. “But when you actually put your hands on the keys and type out the words, numbers and symbols that make up the code and it appears on screen—it is amazing.”

Annie figured out how to code animation that made an object—in her case, a bright yellow gift-wrapped box—disappear when her cursor scrolled over it. “A lot of the computer games I have played have this function,” Annie said. “To know how it actually works is really cool. Now I can picture the code in my head and know what it takes to make that happen.”

The Mayfield faculty has been trained to use the VidCode platform and 12 teachers will be introducing the program in their department curriculum. For instance, students can be taught to code their own interactive flash cards in a language class, or code a theology presentation that integrates video, photos and text descriptions. In a social studies class students can do their own coding to present maps, dates and compare/contrast charts.

The goal is for each student to code at least one video presentation in the coming year, integrating classroom teaching with newfound skills. Mrs. Tighe envisions that projects will grow in creativity and sophistication as coding becomes a valuable, normative tool in the Mayfield curriculum.

“The merging of our students’ creative side and technological side” in the VidCode platform made it especially appealing for Mayfield, Mrs. Tighe said. VidCode was founded by three women who understood how many girls like to learn—using technology as a tool to express their creativity.

Ellie Parisi ’18, who is currently enrolled in the course, likened coding to “putting blocks together” and the course is helping her to think like a coder. “I know this experience is really going to help me in college,” said Ellie, an aspiring engineer. “I’m learning how to structure code so it does what I want it to do. It’s very helpful to understand this style of thinking!”

The VidCode program that Mayfield has adopted imparts increasing levels of coding skills and gives interested students the prerequisites required to take AP Computer Science. “Computer coding is a tool that every student and teacher should be thinking about, no matter what discipline,” said Mrs. Tighe. “What we are doing is empowering our girls to be the originators, the creators, the coders. Having this skill set will enhance their success no matter what field they go into.”

Elisa said she now understands now what it means to be an active learner. “When you are using an app, you are a passive learner—you don’t learn about what is going on,” she said. “But to actually code your own filter or code your own meme is totally different. You just string together code and ‘voila!’ you did it! And the best part? “It’s super cool,” Elisa said.
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Established in 1931, Mayfield Senior School in Pasadena, CA is a Catholic, independent, college preparatory school for young women grades 9-12. Noted for its rigorous academic program, which includes 28 Advanced Placement and Honors courses, Mayfield’s curriculum is underscored by a philosophy of educating the “whole child,” which also encourages commitment to and excellence in the arts, athletics, community service and spiritual growth. The nurturing environment at Mayfield Senior School allows each student to flourish in an atmosphere of personal attention.