Denise Leonard interview

By Rob Zwetsloot. Posted

Denise is a teacher on special assignment to help kids in the alternative school system. We talk to her about how Raspberry Pi is helping

Denise Leonard isn’t just a teacher – she’s a ‘teacher on special assignment’ for some schools in San Jacinto, California.

“I am a teacher, but I am not in the classroom full-time,” Denise explains. “I conduct the enrolment activities for [one of my schools], read transcripts making sure students are on track to graduate, and, most importantly, help motivate students to complete their credits and come to school.”

This article first appeared in The MagPi 85 and was written by Rob Zwetsloot

Apparently not content with all this work, she also runs after‑school coding classes that teach computing with a Raspberry Pi, and is also a Raspberry Pi Certified Educator, having completed a Picademy course in the US.

“Over the past three years I feel that my students have benefited greatly from the addition of my Raspberry Pi classes,” Denise tells us. “While exposure to [digital making] was the goal, the most significant success has been an increase in student connectedness to school. Motivated by the projects and materials available to them as part of the Raspberry Pi course, I witnessed increased desire by many of my students to attend school each day. The more often they attend school, the more connected they feel, which [has] positively affected their credit production, attendance, and behaviour.”

What kind of classes do you teach?

Currently, I am teaching computer science sections to both the alternative school and the independent study school students. I teach both an advanced and beginner course using Raspberry Pi computers. I also am a big makerspace advocate. I spend time helping to ensure our Library Media Technician has the Raspberry Pi Projects website available for students who want to code using Raspberry Pi computers during makerspace time.

What happens in your computing classes?

Instructional experiences include construction and use of various equipment in the computer innovation classroom, access to the makerspace, practice in physical computing with Raspberry Pi and other microcontrollers, along with coding music with Sonic Pi.

All students research and complete engaging activities, which are all personalised with their specific learning needs in mind. This ability to personalise and allow student choice in creating projects is largely due to the Raspberry Pi Foundation’s tremendous wealth of school-friendly resources. They are accessible and easily adaptable, even for educators and students with little to no programming experience.

When did you learn about Raspberry Pi?

I believe I first heard of Raspberry Pi in 2012 during a discussion with my husband, an IT professional, who had read about them and was excited at how much they could do for so little cost. We proceeded to talk through ideas and dream up ways that such a powerful, inexpensive computer could be used as an introduction to programming for those that didn’t have access to much bigger and more expensive devices. It wasn’t long before we had one in our home and we began to look at some of the tools that it made available.

The scripting language Python, which comes pre-installed with [Raspberry] Pi’s Raspbian operating system and the Scratch application made programming easy to visualise and learn. It seemed that in a very short time there were lots of new articles about Raspberry Pi, with new websites and magazines available all the time. Even as our own enthusiasm grew, I was excited to see the adoption of [Raspberry] Pi and how it was introducing so many to the world of programming: boys and girls of all ages, all over the world.

“I am beyond grateful to San Jacinto Unified School District for supporting Mountain View High School and Mountain Heights Academy in the pursuit of educating students in computer coding and related activities and careers, with an emphasis on Raspberry Pi computers and the Python computer language.”

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