Boston Breakdown

My LiA showcase blog containing an overview of my time teaching in Boston over the summer!
Boston Breakdown
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I had long considered what I wanted from the LiA component of the Laidlaw programme. Of course, the opportunity to travel was important for my own personal development, but perhaps more importantly, I wanted to be in a space where I could share some genuine knowledge and learning I have picked up along the way, and assume the role of a mentor. When I discovered the opportunity at Timothy Smith Network and their summer Boston Design Academy, I realised that this was a cause in which I could have a relatively large impact. Mentorship has been extremely important in my life and at any occasion I have and will always try to make it something I do in the lives of others.

I arrived in Boston full of ideas I have gained from relatively recent forays into the world of technology; as somebody who only took on Computer Science at a college level, I could virtually see the wheels that needed turning before certain concepts could land. I could still feel the frustration that I had felt as I learned key concepts and decided to channel that frustration into making the clearest and most empathetic learning materials possible for my class, the web design section of Digital Design Intensive.

As I started teaching, I realised the critical importance of small and regular wins when it comes to programming. Aiming to introduce HTML, CSS, and JavaScript (the key technologies featured on every webpage on the internet), I designed the classes to include some simple examples that could be easily opened and viewed in real time in the browser the students were using. I also quickly realised the limits of what I would be able to introduce, considering the amount of time available. Regularly observing and talking to my students, I realised that my default teaching style was slightly too lecture-based, and that the class could benefit from slightly less oratory on my part!

I enjoyed guiding students through creating custom pages using manually-written code, as well as using drag-and-drop elements. This balance was easily achievable in Google Sites, which I picked for my class only after having compared many different website builders. Perhaps the biggest win for this platform was that it was free and didn’t display ads - it was important to me that the students’ website looked professional and would never disappear due to missed payments or anything of the sort. Some students would talk to me about how they were about to start high school Computer Science classes, and I was particularly happy to help these students extend their pages that bit further, and to pique their interest in checking out further resources online.

An interesting challenge that I had to overcome involved keeping all my supervisors happy with the progress me and the class were making, as the responsibilities of my section extended also into preparing the students for a final presentation of their work in front of a large crowd. My key responsibility was in ensuring that the students created a portfolio website showcasing their work in this and other sections, and that they were able to present this work to a satisfactory degree. I would sometimes insist on covering or revisiting a technical topic if I thought it would benefit the majority of the class, even on days where we had a lot of work to do on our public speaking or presentation skills. I had to stay true to my plan at these moments of pressure, and reflecting on it, I’m glad I did.

Presentation day came and the students all had exemplary work to display, shareable not only as a locked-away slide deck but as a living, extendable website which they could send to all their friends and family - even those who couldn’t make it in person! As scholars, we too had to make a final presentation of sorts, recapping on our teaching and our time spent in Boston. It was a nice moment to take stock of all the fun activities we had taken part in over the LiA, either together or alone. For me, I used the summer to further my own skills in web development and learned a new web framework, Astro, for a basic personal site of my own, and spent many interesting hours in the magnificent Boston Public Library at Copley Square getting this done.

I made a point too at the end of my time in Boston to give my contact information to my students. I am truly interested to hear about their future projects, and have already heard back from a few with questions regarding their summer learnings or the field of Computer Science, as they approach the age of deciding on further education and the like. I think this is the best outcome I could have hoped for - to have inspired these children who may not have considered studying Computer Science or indeed another STEM subject to give it some consideration, and to be a trustworthy and helpful resource for them if they so choose.

I have to also recognise the incredibly warm and encouraging work environment created by the TSN team and my fellow scholars. Some ways along into another academic year, I am already looking back on the experience with so much fondness and appreciation. I was extremely lucky to have the chance to spend the summer in such a way and I will never forget the slew of professional, cultural, and interpersonal learnings I made along the way.

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