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Empowering Educators: Insights from a CS for Climate Action Teaching Studio

 Written By: Zoë Randall


“It’s such a collective experience where we are all learners.” - Dottie, 5th Grade Teacher


5th grade teachers across three elementary schools in San Diego Unified joined forces to do just that as they collaborated on a Computer Science (CS) for Climate Action Teaching Studio this past winter. CS for Climate Action is a pilot program funded with support from the California Subject Matter Project and the SoCal Heat Hub at UC San Diego.



The plan was to integrate the use of micro:bits, a physical computing device, into a lesson from their Cooler Communities project where students would determine the surface temperatures of different materials on the playground and investigate which ones got hotter. This has implications for how schools and communities are built to reduce the impacts of extreme heat events.  Once they determined the lesson objective, they decided around this instructional focus to have for the teaching studio: Collecting data to confirm or adjust an original prediction and students walk away understanding that scientists may use code to collect and analyze data.


What is a Teaching Studio?

According to Alec Barron, Director of the San Diego Science Project, “The goal of a teaching studio is to conduct inquiry into our instructional practices.  We do this by collaboratively planning, teaching, reflecting, and re-teaching a specific lesson.” When embarking on a new Teaching Studio, teachers come together to plan an instructional focus embedded in a lesson, choose focus students for their inquiry, decide on success criteria for their lesson based on the instructional goal, and then co-teach, observe, debrief, and make changes before one more cycle of teaching the same lesson, adjusting it to reach their intended instructional goal and finally debriefing the entire process. It can happen in the course of one day, with at least 4 teachers, and two distinct classrooms.



Planning the Teaching Studio

Jen, Emma, Zamaria, Dottie and I came together with the help of CS professor, Amy Eguchi from UCSD Create. We were also joined by UCSD researcher Tal Waltzer and her two students, Celine and Manasa. We began the Teaching Studio with a planning session, coming back to the instructional focus of the lesson, deciding who would teach each section, and determining which student the data collectors would focus on throughout the lesson. Amy gave an overview of the code for the micro:bit and we made edits to the lesson before the teach.



Ready for Teach 1 

Ready with the plan, our first co-teaching group went to the first classroom which happened to be Emma’s class where students anxiously awaited the new lesson from Emma and her guest teacher friend, Jen. Throughout the lesson, students were engaging in discourse, as they conducted an investigation into temperatures with their micro:bits. Out on the playground it was a scene to watch as groups of students figured out how to use this new computing tool to measure the surface temperature of different materials. Meanwhile, the other teachers and myself were capturing data from the lesson to review during the debrief.



Teach 1 Debrief

After the first teach, our whole team came back together to reflect on the lesson and debrief our next moves before the second teach. We started with celebrations for the lesson:


Dottie: “Exciting to see kids want to go out and do the lesson investigation.”

Zamaria: “Liked how students were talking to each other and making suggestions and sharing what place to go to.”

Tal: “...admired how well the dynamic of the class coordinated fluidly; everyone seemed to know their roles and work together to facilitate something very complex.”

Jen: “Engagement was super. When we went outside, there was no messing around, they got down to business; kept on task, and helped each other.”


Starting with celebration gives regard for art of teaching and sets us up for recognizing what to keep doing in the second teach. As we dug into the lesson design in service of the instructional focus and the teaching goal, we realized that we needed to make some shifts based on our observations as data collectors.



Shifts to the Lesson Before Teach 2

We noticed that students weren’t coming back to their original predictions. They had less agency over the code since they didn’t program it and weren’t sure what it did to make the micro:bit collect data. There was also some confusion around whether they should take the temperature of the material in the sun. There was a lot of wait time as well while the measurements were being taken by the micro:bit. 


To improve the lesson and make sure we met our instructional focus and our teaching goal, the team made some important adjustments before the next teach.

We ended up making the following changes based on our discussion:


  • We modified the success criteria to include feelings as observations.

I can measure temperatures of different materials. 

I can determine which materials get the hottest and which stay the coolest in the sun.

I can observe the effects of temperature on how I feel. 

  • We shared the code that runs the micro:bit so students could analyze what it does.

Can you figure out what you think this is going to measure? Does anyone want to share about the code that you notice or wonder?

  • We explained the code to clarify students’ ideas about what the code could mean.

3 minute wait time

Only when you get to the location, Press A and look for checkmark. 

Remind students that the temperature is recorded in both C and F.

B stops the program.

  • We ended the lesson with a discussion of how the data they collected supported their predictions.


By making these changes to the lesson, we saw a significant shift in student interpretation of their data and understanding of the process of collecting it with a micro:bit.



Reflection after Teach 2

In reflecting on our teaching experiences, we noticed some powerful patterns that significantly enhanced student learning. First and foremost, we saw that fostering engagement and collaboration among students led to remarkable outcomes in the classroom. Simple adjustments to our teaching materials, like refining recording sheets and clarifying code explanations, resulted in tangible improvements in student understanding and accuracy. Encouraging deep discussions, particularly around predictions and code analysis, proved to be a game-changer in promoting critical thinking skills. Moreover, taking the time to delve into code comprehension empowered students to troubleshoot effectively and grasp complex data collection processes.


By celebrating students' progress, such as their growing proficiency in script code, we witnessed a boost in motivation and enthusiasm for learning. (This lesson also addressed Computer Science Standard 3-5.DA.9 : Use data to highlight and/or propose relationships, predict outcomes, or communicate ideas.) Lastly, effective classroom management strategies, like redirecting attention when needed, were instrumental in maintaining focus and participation.


These patterns underscored the importance of intentional lesson design, meaningful discussions, and supportive classroom environments in driving positive learning outcomes. The debrief after Teach 2 led to even more changes like adding a blank space to the investigation sheet to support more data collection and observation.



Goals for the Lesson and the Future

After the two teach sessions, the teaching studio team shared valuable insights from their lesson experience, highlighting key themes and learnings. They emphasized the importance of thorough preparation and understanding of tools like the micro:bit before teaching with them. Recognizing gaps in students' observation skills, they discussed strategies to provide more practice in this area over time. Integrating technology such as the micro:bit elevated engagement levels, prompting considerations for its use in other units and coding lessons. They also noted significant shifts in teaching strategies, emphasizing the benefits of looking at code and building on students' background knowledge. 1Understanding the need for troubleshooting and adaptability, they stressed the importance of flexibility in instruction, even at the university level.


Lastly, they underscored the value of hands-on learning and investigation, particularly through activities like data collection with the micro:bit. Moving forward, their goals include further integrating technology to enhance engagement, strengthening observation skills, and maintaining flexibility in instruction to meet students' needs.



So, why do a Teaching Studio? 

A Teaching Studio offers educators a collaborative space to reflect, refine, and innovate their teaching practices, as evidenced by the insightful feedback shared by our teachers. Through this process, teachers not only deepen their understanding of teaching tools and strategies but also gain valuable insights into their students' learning needs.


The supportive environment of a teaching studio encourages experimentation and adaptation, fostering a culture of continuous improvement. By engaging in meaningful discussions and sharing experiences, teachers enhance their instructional skills and discover effective methods to address challenges in the classroom. Moreover, the collaborative nature of the studio allows for the exchange of ideas and the exploration of new technologies, such as the micro:bit, which can elevate student engagement and learning outcomes across various subjects.


Ultimately, the teaching studio empowers educators to evolve their teaching practices, embrace flexibility, and prioritize student-centered learning approaches, ensuring a dynamic and enriching educational experience for all.


Want help facilitating a Teaching Studio? Contact us sdsp@ucsd.edu.

Share your Teaching Studio Experience with us on X @UCSDSP or Instagram @sdscienceproject.


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