Empowering Every Student with Coding Knowledge – Galena Park ISD, Texas
Empowering Every Student with Coding Knowledge – Galena Park ISD, Texas

Empowering Every Student with Coding Knowledge – Galena Park ISD, Texas

case study article
Case Study
Updated: June 2024 Jun. 2024
5 minutes read
case study article
Case Study

When Tiffany Benitez started her school’s STEM and robotics club, four Galena Park Independent School District students signed up for it. She was a teacher at the time, and the group’s size quickly doubled to eight as more students learned about the opportunity. Soon, this district elementary science specialist’s robotics capabilities were maxed out.

The Challenge
“I only had two robots, so even if kids pleaded to join the club, we just couldn’t accommodate them,” said Tiffany Benitez, Galena Park ISD’s District Elementary Science Specialist.
The Solution
“With CoderZ, all of our students now have the opportunity to learn computer coding, and that positively impacts equity,” said Benitez. “There’s no more having to say, ‘No, our club is full.’
The Result
Several of Galena Park ISD’s campuses use CoderZ in their technology enrichment classes and others have a weekly “enrichment hour” scheduled with campus digital learning and assessment coordinators.

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During the spring of 2020, Galena Park ISD invited 15 students to join the club based on their teachers’
recommendations, grades, and conduct. Within just a few weeks, the club’s size reached 50 kids. At that
point, Benitez knew she needed to find an innovative way to accommodate that thirst for STEM and robotics knowledge, and one that didn’t require the district to purchase 50+ robots.

Benitez, who didn’t like seeing four students “standing around” while the other two worked on the physical robots said, “Most of the students were bystanders who weren’t involved or learning.”

Breaking Down the Barriers
Benitez learned about the CoderZ K-12 computer science virtual robotics platforms when her district
participated in the Amazon Cyber Robotics Challenge and used the LEGO EV3 robot, for which CoderZ offered a virtual version.

“I just keep adding and adding new students,” said Benitez. “Multiply that across all 15 schools and it’s clear just how impactful the virtual robotics platform has been for the school district.”

“The students were able to actually see the robot that they were programming on their screens. They just felt like they didn’t miss a beat and they weren’t being left out,” Benitez said. “They loved the experience.”

Thanks to CoderZ’s innovative online learning environment, Galena Park ISD’s students are learning how to program real and virtual robots using 3D robotics simulation. Benitez no longer has to cap her club’s capacity, which means more kids are getting the hands-on, 21st century skills that they’ll need for college and career.

Increasing Equity in K-12
For the 2021-22 school year Galena Park ISD opened up the robotics club to students in grades K-5. This helped level the playing field for kids who may not otherwise be exposed to technical education in a district where the student population is 79.3% Hispanic and 15.2% African American.

The district’s STEM/robotics program has a vision of creating opportunities for inspiring young people to be STEM leaders by engaging them in programs that build STEM skills that inspire innovation and foster well–rounded life capabilities including higher-order thinking, self–confidence, communication, and leadership.

“All of our students now have the opportunity to learn computer coding, and that positively impacts equity,” said Benitez. “There’s no more having to say, ‘No, our club is full’ or watching students stand around while their classmates work on the physical robots.”

A Platform that Teachers & Students Love

The first time Benitez used CoderZ she was impressed by how easy the platform was to use. It provided
lessons that she could use, plus missions and challenges for the students. Having resources in her corner
helps Benitez created engaging lessons for her expanding robotics club. When you’re using robotics hands-on, you have to create the lesson in a way that keeps pushing students, challenging them, and increasing the difficulty levels.

“Now, CoderZ does that for us instantly,” said Benitez. “As a teacher, I love the pacing that it provides for the students. I no longer have to do that. It was done for me via the program’s own curriculum.”

CoderZ also regularly asks for feedback and input on the platform, knowing that teachers are an integral part of the program success. “CoderZ is always supportive and helpful when we need them,” said Benitez, who likes the platform’s scoreboard, where students can see how they measure up against their peers and other groups.

“They love to try to get out in front and lead,” said Benitez, “but they also really like being able to help each other and the leaderboard gives them the data they need to be able to contribute on that level.”

This especially important for soft skill development, which is yet another benefit of using CoderZ. Students learn how to naturally coach and encourage one another—skills that translate well in college and the workforce.

“The peer coaching is so wonderful to see because they can apply that to other subject areas, like math, reading, and science,” Benitez explained. “Students support one another because they want to see their classmates get to that next challenge.”

The knowledge attained through computer coding also aligns with other subjects that students take in school. For instance, coding, programming, and sequencing are all used in math for measurement. The platform also encourages the natural “tinkerers” to get in there and figure out tough problems by testing theories and hypotheses. These skills are valuable in science classes and other subjects.

The virtual nature of CoderZ also encourages experimentation without any negative consequences. It also provides mini tutorial videos with step-by-step instructions for the often-complex engineering design process. This helps prep students for college and career success in engineering fields.

“There are just so many places where they’ll be able to apply this type of engineering knowledge, problem solving, and critical thinking,” said Benitez.

Galena Park ISD CoderZ

Relishing the Chance to Compete

Several of Galena ISD’s campuses have used CoderZ in their technology enrichment classes and others have a weekly “enrichment hour” scheduled with campus digital learning and assessment coordinators. “They use CoderZ during that time with our K-5 students,” said Benitez, who sees this as yet another way for schools to incorporate the platform into their school day.

In some cases, those campus initiatives have turned into competition among the participating campuses. The students love it, with the elementary schools (which don’t have sports teams) really enjoying the competitive nature of the platform. “We have a spelling bee, a geography bee, a STEM competition and several math competitions,” said Benitez. “They all have so much school pride, so they really relish the opportunity to compete against other campuses.”

Written by:
Graham Celine
Written by:
Graham Celine

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