This New Jersey educator says Code.org Professional Learning changed her teaching career

Lori Piazza has been teaching in New Jersey for 20 years. She was a high school math teacher for most of her career — up until five years ago, when her supervisor asked her to teach computer science.

She attended a Code.org Professional Learning event at TeacherCon 2017 in Philadelphia, and says it was a career-changing experience.

“I was very nervous, because I didn’t know what to expect,” says Lori. “And when I got there, it was so big with so many people. I was in shock at how enormous the entire event was.”

“But as we got settled in, they broke us down into smaller groups, and once you got to know your group, it was great,” she says.

Lori especially appreciated the facilitators and how they provided the background knowledge and confidence each teacher needed to feel fully prepared to teach computer science, regardless of their experience level.

“They did such a great job of not just telling us what the curriculum is, but making us get up there and teach,” she says. “That way, when we brought it back to our classrooms, we had already had experience with it.”

By the end of the training, she felt much more relaxed about teaching a subject she hadn’t taught before.

“By the end, I just felt so prepared, motivated, and ready to get back in the classroom again,” she says. “Specifically, I felt refreshed, which is what I really needed. I was feeling like I was in a slump in my career. And once I went to this, I was like, ‘Wow, I feel ready to try again, I feel ready to change my philosophy on teaching.’”

The attendees at TeacherCon 2017 in Philadelphia, PA. Photo: Code.org

Finding a community

One of the most rewarding aspects of the Code.org Professional Learning Program is the community you’re invited into, according to Lori. She loved meeting other teachers from her region and still keeps in touch with many of them today.

“We made our own little Google Classroom, we share articles with each other, we share lesson ideas and videos with each other,” Lori says. “We meet up often at the CSTA Computer Science Teachers Association meetings that we have here in New Jersey. It’s just very nice to be a part of this network.”

Fostering that community definitely came in handy once COVID-19 upended the educational world, as Lori and her fellow teachers were able to check in on one another regarding how they’re handling everything, as well as how they’re teaching during the pandemic.

Lori adds that the teacher forum and support on Code.org also help create the supportive community feeling: “I logged in just this week, and asked a question on the forum. I got a response within two hours, and I was like, ‘This is so cool.’”

Recently, Lori completed a virtual Professional Learning event. While it wasn’t quite as much fun as being in person, Lori says she left the experience feeling just as prepared as if she’d been in the room with her facilitators and fellow teachers.

Teachers can sign up for our Professional Learning Program at code.org/educate/professional-learning/middle-high.

Overcoming the past

Five years ago, when her supervisor first asked her to teach computer science, Lori didn’t have the most positive reaction:

“I was like, ‘No way, not doing that,’” she says. “I minored in computer science in college, and I hated it. I cried my eyes out the whole time.”

In high school, Lori had excelled in math, so those around her encouraged her to study computer science — even though she wasn’t entirely sure what it was, as her high school hadn’t offered it.

“It was the biggest smack in the face. It was not at all what I thought it would be,” she says. “I walked into a classroom full of males, and I’m the only female. And I was like, ‘I feel so out of place.’”

But becoming part of the Code.org community has actually helped Lori revisit her college experience:

“Maybe if I just had this environment, I would have been in it, full force,” she says. “And if maybe I had a woman professor to convince me to continue, or if maybe I had other girls in the classroom… there are so many things I think about that if I’d had them back then, maybe I would have continued with it.”

Now Lori tries to give that community feeling to her students at school: “Every student who comes in my room, I keep thinking, ‘What can I give them that could keep them in this profession or make them want to stay with computer science?’”

Students benefit, too

Lori isn’t the only one in her classroom benefiting from Code.org’s Professional Learning. She says her students love learning on Code.org too, finding it “fun and challenging at the same time.”

“They love the fact that you can go back and forth between block and text mode,” she says. “That is huge, because the beginners are always afraid of text mode. So they’re always dragging and dropping!”

An example of block coding on Code.org’s Dance Party activity at code.org/dance.

Lori also feels like Code.org’s platform helps prepare her AP students to take the AP CS Principles exam with confidence: “If you’re following along and you’re doing what you’re supposed to be doing, it’s totally possible to pass and do well on the AP exam.”

Some of Lori’s students have continued on in computer science, then reached back out to her with gratitude.

“I have students that have reached out to me from college, and said, ‘I kept going because I loved your class,’” she says. “I’ve had students who didn’t go to college email me from the Navy, telling me that they are engineers now in the Navy, and that their experience in my class helped them move forward in the military. So I’ve had such great feedback from my students and seeing them continue on has been so rewarding.”

“Don’t be afraid”

After attending Code.org’s Professional Learning Program and using Code.org in her classroom, Lori would recommend both to any teacher — whether they’re considering changing the subject they teach, as Lori did, or just looking to try something new in their existing computer science classrooms.

“Don’t be afraid,” she says. “If you use Code.org, you’ll find a group of people to help you, you’ll have a jam-packed website full of resources to help you, and you’ll have a lesson plan for every single day!”

Lori adds that anyone considering teaching computer science should follow her example and let go of any outdated ideas of the subject: “The computer science of today is not the computer science of 25 years ago, where you had to sign up in the computer lab and walk over to the computer lab in order to do the assignment or something. It’s a totally new world. And it’s so much more fun and engaging than it was when I was in college.”

— Samantha Urban Tarrant, Code.org

Please note: Professional Learning workshops are for educators in the U.S. planning to teach CS Discoveries, CS Principles, and CSA. Elementary school teachers interested in teaching our CS Fundamentals course can find a workshop in their area and register here (no application necessary). For teachers outside the U.S., please review this article, which outlines the support available to you.

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