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Amelia programmed a robot—

The new technology curriculum centers on three

a robot she built herself.

pillars: digital citizenship, operational use, and computational thinking.

Maeve hacked an EEG headset—

Digital Citizenship

searching for ways virtual reality

“Digital citizenship is about using technology in safe and

can help patients with PTSD.

appropriate ways,” said Middle School technology teacher Elizabeth Kalajian.

Charlotte created a tutu that lights

Because students’ interaction with technology changes with age, the concept is folded into the curriculum every year, although it

up—and then programmed it to flash

might look different in each grade. In Lower School, students are

to the beat of her favorite song.

taught about safety and to “be kind online,” but they usually haven’t spent much time on social media. In Middle School, stu-

Welcome to computer science at Sacred Heart. Of

dents naturally become more curious, making these years especially

course, some people hear “coding” or “technology”


and immediately picture a socially awkward introvert —probably male—with plenty of pocket protectors, few outside interests, and zero creative zeal. Not at 91st Street. This September, the school launched a new technology curriculum. Developed by technology and computer teachers Liat Hirsch, Elizabeth Kalajian,

“I don’t tell them ‘Instagram is bad, never go on it,’” said Ms. Kalajian, “because they are going to be on it someday. I would rather show them the good and the bad aspects. How do you navigate away from the bad, and what do you do if it happens?” To that end, students are challenged to be not just digital citizens, but digital leaders. Fourth graders create presentations in Google Slides for third graders about keeping information private, and what a digital foot-

and Lauren Mitchell, and tested throughout the past

print is. In Middle School, fifth graders use Google Forms to create

year, the expanded scope and sequence follows an

their own “digital dilemma” decision-making games, similar to a

inquiry and project-based learning approach de-

choose-your-own-adventure story, in which players can choose how

signed to engage and inspire students at every age.

to handle a digital situation, and learn what the outcome might be.

While educators across the country struggle in

Eighth graders create infographics highlighting one aspect of digital

vain to steer students toward computer science (CS),

citizenship and share them with younger students. They also have

91st Street’s program is drawing students in. In

“Genius Hour,” independent work in which they explore one of their

the following pages, we take a closer look at how

passions, conduct relevant research, and present a final project to

Sacred Heart is cracking the code.

the class. “We’re asking them, how can you use technology for good? How can you inspire others? What can you create?” said Ms. Kalajian. “How can you make what you care about relevant and impactful for others and for the community?”



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Eighth graders created infographics about digital citizenship for younger students.

Teaching students how they can apply technology for good is vital if you

Operational Use

want to keep students engaged, said Upper School computer science teacher

Operational use is knowing how to care for and use computers and other

Lauren Mitchell.

devices efficiently. This is especially important in Lower and Middle School.

“Most mainstream computer science curriculums are built around creating video games,” she said. “I think that can only hold a student’s interest for so long before they ask, ‘Is this really going to change the world? Is this really what’s motivating me?’” Ms. Mitchell, who plans to pursue a Ph.D. in computer science education and curriculum development, said she wants to create a curriculum that links technology and service learning. In Upper School, students create a BuzzFeed style quiz for Middle Schoolers to learn about cyber bullying, and are paired with “cyber buddies” as a form

By the time a student gets to Upper School, she needs to be “fluent” in iPads, laptops, Google Apps, Google Docs, Google Slides and Forms. This can be easier said than done—even for the teachers, who say technology is evolving so rapidly that sometimes the students know about a new tool before they do. “We are learning together,” said Ms. Kalajian. “As the trends and new devices come into play, I’m always transparent about that with the students. Sometimes I’ll say, ‘I don’t know what that does—let’s figure it out!’ And I’m telling the truth!”

of cross-divisional integration. They also do independent projects that link coding, social awareness, and action.



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Grade 8 Genius Hour Eighth graders find connections between technology and their own interests, then do independent projects that they present to the class in “Genius Hour.� Ballet dancer Charlotte Budzinsky created a tutu that she coded to light up and flash along with a specific piece of music. She combined her passion for ballet and sewing with coding and circuitry. Isabel Maida used HTML and CSS to design a DIY website featuring recipes and crafts. Celia Cestari learned how to use Photoshop and different editing programs to create her own fashion

magazine. She researched and wrote all of the articles as well.



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Girls Who Code Two 91st Street students won full scholarships to a techStudents learn to explore things on their own. “It’s become a critical part of my classes,” said Ms. Mitchell. “It’s about teaching

nology immersion program run by Girls Who Code (GWC). Charlotte Mackin and Maeve Foley, both Class of 2020, spent seven weeks this summer at Adobe and United

them to think independently, and to be resourceful—and figure it out for themselves.”

Technologies Corporation, respectively. Every morning,

“The biggest skill they need to learn is troubleshooting,” Ms. Kalajian agreed.

they each received specialized coding instruction from a

“How do you figure out something on the computer that you don’t know how to do?

Girls Who Code instructor. For the rest of the day, they

I encourage them to use all their resources. It’s like our mission—life-long learning.

met with and observed their company mentors, learned about technology careers, and went on field trips to other

That’s what tech is.”

the leading technology companies throughout NYC.

Computational Thinking

As juniors, both students took Data Analysis Using Python with computer science teacher Lauren Mitchell,

Computational thinking is knowing how to analyze a problem so that you can use a computer or computer applications to solve it. Integral to coding and engineering, it is akin to working backwards, with the desired result at the starting point. It’s an unfamiliar way of thinking for students. Most subjects they study are more linear. For example, in English, a student writing an essay might read a book, take

who encouraged them to apply. “As our computer science class with Ms. Mitchell became more in-depth and complex, I realized how much I loved the combination of problem-solving and creative thinking that goes into coding,” Maeve said. “I knew Girls Who Code would provide me with a great opportunity to

notes, write a rough draft, then edit it and turn in the finished product.

explore my interest with an actual tech industry

Not so in technology.


“There’s a lot more of that reiterative process,” said Ms. Kalajian. “They might start

“When I got the email saying I was accepted, my heart

to solve a problem, test it, and it’s horrible, so they go back to square one. They have

almost jumped out of my chest!” Charlotte added. “I was

to learn that this way of approaching things takes time, and to be resilient.”

so excited to expand my knowledge beyond the classroom. I knew it was an opportunity I had to take.”

Computational thinking is also where coding fits in. Students begin with block-

Ms. Mitchell couldn’t be prouder.

based code such as Scratch, which is more intuitive and user-friendly, before

“Girls Who Code is an incredible organization that

advancing to text-based code such as Python, which relies heavily on complex syntax.

inspires and exposes young women to opportunities in

But no matter what the level, students do coding projects aimed at connecting the

technology and computer science,” Ms. Mitchell said. “It

experience with other parts of their lives.

is an incredible honor to be selected, especially as these girls have only been coding for one year.”


breaking down complex problems, data, or processes into smaller, manageable parts


identifying and focusing on the important information only, ignoring irrelevant details

Pattern recognition

observing patterns, trends, similarities among and within data or problems


developing a step-by-step solution to a problem, or rules to follow to solve a problem or similar problems



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Upper School: Independent Projects Upper Schoolers pursued their passions through creative independent projects. Maeve Foley ’20 (opposite) wanted to investigate how technology and VR

(virtual reality) can help with exposure therapy for patients with PTSD. She hacked an EEG headset by attaching an Arduino to capture more accurate data. Joan Playford ‘21 (top right) translated her passion for figure skating into

a website that calculates a base score for a skater’s program, based on the turns, jumps, etc. that the skater inputs. She used HTML, CSS and JS. Nicole Rodgers ’21 (top left) used HTML, CSS and JS to design a website

for teenagers looking for ways to join the fight against Alzheimer’s. Amelia Neumann ’21 (bottom) built a robot from scratch. She designed the

robot in Tinker Cad, laser-cut the pieces, and used Arduino to program the lights and wheels.



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Middle School: Ozobots Ms. Kalajian works with sixth graders as they code Ozobots to illustrate a challenge faced by the main character in a book they read for English class. Students added backdrops, then filmed and edited a scene.


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Lower School: Superheroes After studying mythology, animation and circuitry, third graders create an animation in Scratch about a superhero of their own design and share their projects with family and friends.

“I want it to be embedded in what they’re learning,” said Ms. Kalajian. “So they aren’t just 3-D printing, they are 3-D printing a significant symbol that represents something from a book they’re read-

“We’re asking them, how can you use technology for good? How can you inspire others? What can you create?”

ing. Tech needs to be relevant to make it meaningful.” Ms. Mitchell agreed. “I really want them to bring what they are passionate about into class,” she said. “I want to help them find the overlap between what they’re into and technology, because I know it’s there.” Ninth graders create projects addressing an issue they care about such as the environment or health using Python. Tenth and eleventh graders select and explore one of their interests as it relates to coding or technology for their final independent projects. Ms. Mitchell hopes that the experience helps students see computer science as a way to achieve their goals, professional or otherwise. “Students don’t know that coding can set them up for other things,” she said. “With chemistry, there’s a clear connection to a job that helps people, being a nurse or a doctor. With coding, you really need to show them. All of these different tools that our doctors are using, that political organizations are using to campaign, that fashion companies are using to market—behind every single one of these things is code. And students don’t know that. My goal is to teach them that more than anything else.” N IN ET Y-F IRST ST REET


Profile for Convent of the Sacred Heart

91st Street Magazine: Cracking the Code Article  

91st Street Magazine: Cracking the Code Article  

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