My experiences with G.U.T.S
by Micaela Altamirano
My journey began about six years ago. A colleague had told be about this
program and so I went to Socorro, NM at New Mexico Tech to learn further. We had a
two week long in depth journey into StarLogo tng. EVERYTHING was over my head. My
has it changed, from the Professional Developments to the amount of people attending,
to the actual programming software itself.
After attending the training in Socorro I started an after school club in Anthony,
NM. With a very rural and low socioeconomic setting I only had three computers in my
classroom which my students paired up and shared. Now let me explain my
background. I have a degree in Spanish with a supplementary major in Latin American
Studies, and minors in history, education and borderland studies. Yup, you read right,
NOTHING at all to do with science. So being in a program where I was learning
programming was a complete curveball. I’m sure I had no clue as to what I was doing,
and I’m sure my first after school club knew it. Good thing for me they were just excited
to be in an after school club and on a computer!
At the end of the year I went to a local training, and if I’m being honest there were
sooo many teachers, things were slightly disorganized (as I think this was fairly new for
everyone) and everything was still over my head. I don’t know if it was the instruction or
the software, but I wasn’t comprehending much. It was evident those who understood
the software and those who didn’t. I think I was between the two, in the sense I REALLY
wanted to know how to do the programming, although I just couldn’t seem to grasp the
A couple years later, when I finally began to dip my toes with confidence things
changed. Yes, I said years, that is how slow the learning curve was with having only 2-3
trainings a year, computers that lagged and often erased our code, as well as too many
people at the trainings to honestly understand what was going on at all. At this point I
have established the basics of the code and how to implement them into my afterschool
program. Unfortunately, I still only had three computers, although now I have “bribed” at
least 10-15 students to stay after school in my GUTS club. I’d like to give credit to my
students at that point, because they caught on quicker and began to teach me new
things. They did so well, I was so impressed. They took the ecosystem portion and
added in a hunter and coyote. They really brainstormed with the coding, there was so
much trial and error and persistence, it was amazing, their creativity was endless.
Seeing their passion and enthusiasm really inspired me. Towards the end of the school
year is when the initial transition into StarLogo Nova was hatched, and if I had thought
offline caused glitches, boy was I wrong. Our group meet twice a week and things would
constantly disappear, there were so many difficulties only two students took on the
challenge of using Nova, the rest stuck with TNG.
I’m going to jump ahead, I am now in a new district in a school where I have 1:1
computer ratio. I didn’t have to “bribe” any students to stay after in my club. I introduced
GUTS during the school day to get more students involved for my after school program,
and I was surprised the turn out as well as how many females joined us. This is the first
year I implemented Project GUTS during the school day and afterschool. Many students
were frustrated when they began, although felt accomplished when they would get the
code correct. When we finished our programming section I gave out an opinion poll and
they had such mixed reviews of how coding made them feel, and their frustration levels.
As a teacher I loved the struggle and the challenges coding lead them to overcome.
This last summer I went to a two week training and my have the trainings
changed since I first started. We really dove in and programmed. The hosts are
ALWAYS are so kind, and greet us with a smile. Some are like distant relatives as I see
them only during trainings. For this training I FINALLY felt like I have a deep
understanding of the curriculum as did the presenters. Thankfully, the handbook was
easy to follow and guided me graciously. Now there is so much help online and
resources at our fingertips. The second week there was a camp and we got to
demonstrate our understanding of the curriculum. In my humble opinion I think some
are still at the same stage I was when I began, feeling frazzled and confused, and not
quite ready to take the leap of integrating it into their curriculum or afterschool program.
Although I’m sure they will quickly catch on as I did.
Now let me explain why I stuck with this program. I sincerely believe in
computational thinking and the importance behind it. When students stop to think
computationally they slow down. Students go from topic to topic, class to class,
although the thing that remains consistent is their cognitive abilities. This is an
opportunity to reach students and create well rounded individuals with step by step
critical thinking. With technology going at such a fast rate students think quick and want
immediate results. With programming they don’t get that. With computational thinking
the students can’t just jump to the outcome, they have to struggle and often feel like
they are at a dead end with their results. The opportunity to allow students at such a
young stage in their lives experience the struggle, the change of pace in their learning,
and a new way to look at things is phenomenal. I’m glad to be a part of such a program.