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Teaching Enthusiastic Creation to the Next Generation

Using widely-available tech tools to get middle school students excited to learn


Image of businessman compiling macro white puzzle. Building businessShawn Patrick Higgins combines his enthusiasm for computer science with the creative arts to help his students learn and thrive as the Computer Science and Technology Teacher at Parkrose Middle School in Portland, Oregon. Even though computer science has established itself fairly well at the high-school level, middle school has not caught up to the level of secondary education. Shawn is determined to get middle school kids passionate about computer science through game making and coding.

Shawn focuses on using audio with his teaching. Many of his students are Title 1 and may not have the computer skills that other kids have from dealing with technology and computers in their everyday life like other more fortunate kids when coming into Shawn’s program. Shawn creates audio projects using collaborative Soundtrap software and uses tracks extracted from existing pop culture videos, making the projects relevant and exciting for his students. By removing the visual layer from the videos he uncomplicates the task, helping younger kids with little or no experience understand and jump into production with both feet.

By using cloud-based services, Shawn’s kids can access their projects from anywhere, including home, which boosts their enthusiasm level. Shawn’s energy is infectious, as demonstrated in the video and it comes through clearly in his interactions with his students.

Interview Transcript

Dr. Berger:   Shawn, it’s nice to spend some time with you. You are in a much more comfortable environment than I am today. I’m jealous!

Shawn Patrick Higgins:  I didn’t realize we’d have a video component to this, so don’t mind the unmade bed and the laundry on the floor.

DB:  It just means you’re busy working hard. I like that.

SPH:  Yes. I got home a second ago, and I was running a little late so I didn’t have time to properly clean up as much as I should but ─

DB:  No! Look, you’re in education. There’s a lot going on. And I wanted to talk to you… I read a piece in EdScoop and the title was How a Cloud-Based Music App Adds New Energy to Computer Science Instruction.

I think of computer science back when I was in school ─ I’m 40 now; I’ve passed that threshold ─ but it was very different back then than what it is now.

Catch up the audience to computer science in teaching children. How has technology impacted your ability to add excitement with students when leading them in that fashion?

SPH:  I think one of the main things if I’m talking to someone and introducing myself especially when I talk “I’m a middle school teacher” and they go, “Oh, what are you doing?” ─

“Computer Science.”

“What would that look like?”

I also say, “Creative technology,” and I combine those two aspects although from state to state and from district to district, there isn’t a unified vision of what that looks like.  There’s CSTA ─ Computer Science Teacher Association and IFDE and their standards, but those standards are all over the place.