Technology Courses at Pinacate: Employing the Future

Middle School girl coding
Sheryl Sandberg, the C.O.O of Facebook, recently stated, “Our children, including our girls, need the opportunity to learn computer science.”  Computer scientists, or programmers, imagine and create our digital world.  When we pay our bills online, email a picture to a loved one, buy a birthday present on Amazon, or use GPS on our phone to get somewhere on time, we owe our thanks to a programmer.  Unfortunately, computer science is not widely taught in public K-12 schools.  According to, there are currently 586,107 computer science jobs available in the U.S., but only 38,175 computer science students graduated and entered the workforce last year. The statistics are clear: computer science needs to be taught in school.

Perris Union High School District’s Pinacate Middle School decided to start exposing their students to computer science.  Last year in December, every student on campus participated in’s “Hour of Code” event that occurred across the U.S.  Shortly after, a computer programming club was offered after school. Young and excited aspiring programmers instantly joined the club.  Their creations were fascinating.  It became evident that computer science should not be limited to a club environment but should be offered as an actual course.  The first official technology class at Pinacate began during the second semester with only 15 students. This pilot class was first taught by math teacher Erik Anderson with the assistance of the school’s technology coach, Mark Synnott. Within two months, Mr. Anderson and Mr. Synnott were requested by administration to develop a technology course for the 2015-2016 school year.  After much planning, writing, erasing, and rewriting, their technology curriculum was approved by the district’s board.   There are currently thirteen technology courses at Pinacate.  This means that over 500 students are practicing computer science everyday. These innovative classes are being taught by Mr. Anderson, Mr. Wojciechowski, and Mrs. Burnett.

As well as exposing students to computer science, the goal of the technology curriculum is to provide students with an opportunity to create and manage digital content in a wide variety of contexts. Every resource is available online and free of charge. Coding skills will receive the primary emphasis as students are exposed to introductory lessons in logic and computational thinking using coding languages HTML, CSS, JavaScript, and Python. While learning these languages and new ways of thinking, students will interact with multiple forms of input, from playing computer-simulated video games, to typing raw commands in strict command-line coding environments.  After researching the best available resources, Mr. Anderson and Mr. Synnott selected Scratch paired with Google’s CS First, Tynker, Code Combat, Code Academy, and to help facilitate students understanding of basic coding.

Class full of students coding
The curriculum will also take students beyond computer programming by providing opportunities for them to create in other digital environments.  Students will create digital art through programs like Geogebra and’s Artist Studio. They will also learn the basic mechanics of photography and still-image editing through the Adobe Creative Cloud.  Video production will be taught through free video editors like WeVideo and students will make animated stories through resources like Animaker.  Additionally, at least once a week, students will spend time learning how to become a good digital citizen by exploring resources at Common Sense Media.  Lessons in digital citizenship will require students to reflect on issues like cyberbullying, leaving a clean and productive digital footprint, protecting personal information, internet safety, internet identity, and creative rights.

Students will be expected to master a number of other digital skills that serve as the infrastructure of their digital journey including keyboarding, website navigation and bookmarking, building and managing an ePortfolio in Haiku, saving and renaming files and images, keeping track of their usernames and passwords in Google Forms, use of Google Classroom and Google Drive, and participating in digital checking for understanding activities presented through media such as Kahoot and Socrative.

Currently, 7th and 8th graders share the same classroom.  The plan for the 2016-2017 school year is to expand the class into Tech I and Tech 2 classes.  Tech I classes will teach 7th graders the skills that underpin success in a digital environment such as keyboarding, file management, portfolio maintenance, and the basics of computer science.  Tech II classes will give 8th grade students (who have already taken the Tech I class)  opportunities to deepen their understanding of computer programming and the production of digital art forms.   Students in the Tech II class will also be encouraged to broaden their understanding of the world around them through participation in project based learning such as the Samsung Solve for Tomorrow competition.  This nationwide contest asks students to identify one issue or problem that they observe, either at school or in their community, and to apply S.T.E.A.M. skills to solve that problem.  So far, Mr. Anderson has seen wide interest in this project, with almost 60 students signing up to be part of the initial endeavor!

As the course develops over the coming years to include emerging technologies, the vision to help students uncover the fundamental power of their digital skill remains the same.  Pinacate hopes to produce students who will apply their digital skills in a way that benefits others, whether these people live in their own communities, or halfway around the world.