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CodeCombat Teacher Spotlight - Susan Jones-Szabo

In our CodeCombat Teacher Spotlight we highlight extraordinary teachers, who share stories about their classrooms, students, and their own journey with CodeCombat.

1.Tell us about yourself and your students.

I have been teaching for over 28 years, starting as a pre-K teacher. As the years went by and I changed what grades I taught I realized that what I really wanted to be was the elementary school librarian, since I loved all the grades, books and enjoyed poking about in the computer lab.

The students at my school are an incredibly diverse group. They range in age from pre-K to fifth grade, speak over 32 languages and have all sorts of different backgrounds; 65% are Title One (free and reduced lunch), some have recently immigrated, some live in million dollar homes, some live in the homeless families apartments, some in apartments, and some are Coast Guard kids.

2.What inspired you to teach?

My mom. After deciding that hotel management wasn’t for me I was struggling with what to do next, and she pointed out that I did a good job helping her in her 3rd grade classroom and felt that I was a natural teacher. I am a third generation teacher – I suspect teaching may be a genetic talent.

3.What is your favorite aspect of teaching with CodeCombat?

I enjoy the format, with the hints. The kids get hooked at first with the game format and then start discovering that they can do the coding/logic and then get enthused about that as well. I also really like that they are working with a real coding language in addition to learning the logic.

4.What is your favorite moment related to using CodeCombat in your class?

Every time I hear a “Ooooh!, I get it now!”, and the kid waves me away.

5.What is a typical day like in your classroom?

With the 5th and 4th grade we do some book checkout/quiet reading time, I review an aspect of coding via CodeCombat that I think will help them, and then the students work on their CodeCombat accounts. We have 60 minutes together starting from the time the bell rings and they line up outside.

6.What specific strategies have you used to help students overcome challenges while learning to code?

I encourage students helping one another – but not touching their mice or keyboards. I review certain key levels with the whole class and concepts as the students, as a group, encounter them. Some concepts, like while-true loops take several reviews. Sometimes I use the lessons CodeCombat provides, sometimes I have made my own.

7.How do you teach computer science without a CS background?

Because I so recently learned computer science I am sympathetic to how confusing things can get, and I use the thought process of how I learned to teach the kids. It’s not unusual for me to struggle with a student on what they are stuck on – and I voice my thinking process and review what worked and why when we get to the solution. I think it can help kids to see that I don’t always know the answer offhand and makes them more willing to struggle as well.

8.What’s going on in your district, school, or class that you want everyone to know about?

We became a STEAM school this year which is really exciting for all of us as it engages all of our students who are learning how to use logic and to be ok with their ideas not always working out. We have done a tremendous amount in our first 4 months and I can’t wait to see what our kids accomplish in a year or two as they learn the Engineering Model of how to problem solve, and as our teachers become more proficient as well.

Editor's Note: Learn more about Ms. Jones-Szabo's efforts to help bring STEAM to her school.

9.Any fun projects from students or success stories related to using CodeCombat in your class?

I included some pictures below from today’s 5th grade class that was sharing their game projects from Game Development 1. Today they learned the importance of having someone outside of their immediate group of co-developers try to play the game they developed, and then the ones with finished games rushed off to make them better.

Know a great teacher we should spotlight? Have questions about CodeCombat for your class or school. Let's talk! Email us via schools@codecombat.com or reach out on Twitter & Facebook.


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