Creative Coding in Upper School

Burke’s Upper School students are learning Javascript. Or, more accurately, p5.js, an extension of Javascript alongside Vanessa Miller, Makery Facilitator & Technology Integration Specialist.

Burke’s teachers are lifelong learners who are invested in ongoing growth as professionals with the goal of bringing skills back into the classroom. One example of many is a six-week Upper School coding class in the sixth and seventh-grade HEART classes led by Vanessa Miller, Upper School Makery Facilitator & Technology Integration Specialist. Ms. Miller is sharing her creative coding experience with her students as well as holding weekly coding sessions for faculty members to learn skills for use in their own classes. “Coding was something I’ve had self-doubt with over the years, but I knew it was something I could learn. I want to model that process for my students and our peers.”

Students have started off by coding an emoji in p5.js, which will be followed by coding an ice cream cone. Ms. Miller says, “it’s important to ask the students what interests them, for instance, do you want to do something that lights up, do you want to write code on the computer? I’m focusing on what will satisfy their curiosity while building their skills.” 

Ms. Miller believes it's important to share her learning process with the students, so they can see that they can learn, even when it’s hard. She hopes that modeling this growth mindset will help students see that it’s okay to take risks and step outside of their comfort zone. “I love to see the celebrations when students are able to figure something out. It’s hard to learn something new and I want my students to know that it’s okay if it doesn’t click immediately.” 

Of course, creative coding is also a fun way to connect to math, because students learn about the order of operations. “I can show students who might struggle with math, that they are actually doing math in their creative work. They can see it as a visual creation, and approach it in a way that works for their learning style.” 

Virtual reality and projection mapping are current topics in her creative coding class, and Ms. Miller is working out ways to bring these ideas and skills to her students. “It was so cool to design something, put on goggles, and go inside my project.” She is also looking ahead to Burke’s Art Festival in the spring, hoping to have a gallery with QR codes, so that attendees can view student coding projects. “I want people to be able to see coding as an art, and not just a science.” 

To top it off, We had a special Zoom visit from Burke's alum Stephanie Chong '05 at the Upper School Assembly to celebrate the Week of Code. She presented her path to becoming a coder, shared a sneak peek into her day-to-day coding experience, and stressed that there isn't just one path to becoming a programmer.
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