Bit by Byte – Gage Loveless and Rhazes Spell

Windward Communications

In order to achieve our goal of providing a dynamic, engaging education, the School is always looking at ways in which it can grow and develop its programming to ensure it remains at the forefront of educational models and practices.

15 years ago, the School added the use of simple machines to its Science curriculum to help prepare Middle School students for the Physics classes they’d take in 9th Grade. This change in curriculum was made in order to create a smoother transition into vertical integration and coding, a focus Windward’s Science department, in conjunction with the School’s STEAM Director, would continue to develop over the next decade.

“Over the past five years, we've been adding coding into the curriculum, here and there. We had it as basically a single freestanding project during one month of the year in 8th Grade science, just making sure that every single kid would get programing and coding,” says Science and Technology Teacher Gage Loveless. “And then last year in the springtime, we started to think about ‘how can we revamp this course?’”

At the beginning of the 2023-24 school year, the many years of proactive planning culminated in the launch of a new 8th Grade program for Principles of Science II. A joint collaboration between Gage and Rhazes Spell, the School’s new Computer Science Teacher, Principles of Science II now introduces the principles of coding and programming in a way that connects with the Earth and physical science lessons that are also taught in the 8th Grade.

“A lot of times with computer science, it's sort of pulled out into its own thing,” Rhazes explains. “And part of what we wanted to do was to have it sit more naturally in the subject, so the kids would actually be able to see it getting applied as they were learning the skills of programming.”

Taking advantage of Professional Development funding made available to Windward faculty, Gage and Rhazes redesigned the curriculum to better create a program that would result in long term learning and a true depth of understanding. To start, they created a collaborative schedule that allows students to split time with them throughout the three planned units. From discussing the practical elements of a topic with Gage to utilizing computer science applications with Rhazes, the merging of disciplines allows students the opportunity to synthesize what they have learned and then apply it with coding and programming. The subjects taught in each module feed directly into the next, culminating in a final project in which students show their understanding of both the completed module and the larger applications of the lessons learned.

To close out the first half of the year, students were tasked to highlight what they’d learned over the course of the semester by designing and creating an interactive display piece. In addition to showing a clear grasp of the concepts they’d learned in their Earth Science lessons, the project also required that students incorporate at least two types of sensory input devices, and four output display devices such as LED’s or motors. Throughout the course of the unit students worked on multiple drafts, submitted sketches, diagrams, and instructions, and tested their programs on working models. In January, the resulting projects were proudly displayed at a special exhibit in the CTL and shared with other Windward students, faculty, and staff.

While the language of coding is specific to computer science, the universal principles taught—accountability, resiliency, and self-reflection, among others—are just as necessary on the field or stage as they are in the lab. It’s that well-rounded application that Gage and Rhazes find so rewarding about their shared class.

“The class makes sure that every student can see themselves possibly as a coder, as a programmer, and see the value and excitement it has, as well as see the ways in which it can be integrated into art, science, math,” says Gage. “They see the multifaceted application of it instead of thinking of it as, ‘Oh, that's what those other people do’  or ‘that's not for me.’ I think making sure that every kid codes makes it more accessible.”

While students are encouraged to observe, ask questions, and come to solutions in their other Science classes, Principles of Science II requires that students consider their answers from all angles. Rather than simply explaining their work, students have to be able to articulate it in a way that makes sense to the program they’re using, something that requires explicit communication and a sharp attention to detail. In coding, a single errant comma can be the difference between success and frustration. For Rhazes, it’s in those challenging moments that students truly find out what they’re capable of. “Students have an identity,” he notes. “‘I'm good at this. I'm not good at that.’ What we try to do in the classroom is sort of shake their sense of, “This is who I am, and this is what is hard.” He continues, “It’s getting them to relax and have fun and ask ‘How do I work through the problem?’ When the lightbulb goes off, you see the joy of learning and the confidence when they figure something out, and it’s really, really cool.”

Much like it has over the last 15 years, the program will continue to evolve to match the 21st century needs of our students. As Gage and Rhazes consider what’s next for their collaboration and beyond, they remain proud of the advancements the department has made in making coding accessible for all Middle School students. “Every 8th Grader will leave this year with the ability to program a physical circuit, do block coding, and do line by line coding and program within a simulation on the computer,” marvels Gage. “I think that's massive for every rising 9th Grader to have that experience.”