Bringing interactive journalism into the middle school: A conversation with Laura Fay

Laura Fay is a Reading teacher at Fisher Middle School in Ewing, New Jersey. For the last three years, she has been an active collaborator in the Interactive Journalism Institute for Middle Schoolers (, a demonstration project at The College of New Jersey funded by the National Science Foundation’s Broadening Participation in Computing Program. (CNS #073973).

The goal of the IJIMS project is to expose students and teachers interactive journalism as a way of raising students’ interest in and awareness of computing careers. In a summer program and after-school club, participants created multimedia story packages, based on original reporting, that included text, video, images and animations created in Scratch, a programming language for novices created at MIT. Fay and her colleagues intend to continue the IJIMS project after its formal conclusion on August 31, 2010. This interview was recorded August 13, 2010 at the Scratch@MIT conference, where Fay and fellow teacher Marcy Havens presented their work along with the project’s Principle Investigator, TCNJ Associate Professor Ursula Wolz, and its external evaluator, Meredith Stone.

Scholastic Journalism Education as a Tool for Teaching Computational Thinking

Greg Linch’s April 30, 2010 post at the Publish2 blog improves upon my May 2009 post on computational thinking in journalism by placing it in the context of the larger conversation about the skills and habits of mind that journalists now need. He also offers helpful suggestions about specific computer science concepts that journalists ought to understand. Linch lists abstraction, debugging, defining variables, and commenting code as examples of computer science concepts that parallel traditional journalism skills and functions.

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Superintendent: IJIMS Strengthened Learning and Professional Development in New Jersey School District

In June, 2009, my colleague Ursula Wolz and I had a chat with outgoing Ewing New Jersey Public Schools Superintendent Raymond Broach about his views on the IJIMS Project. IJIMS or the Interactive Journalism Institute for Middle Schoolers, is collaboration between Ewing township’s middle school and The College of New Jersey that is supported by the National Science Foundation’s Broadening Participation in Computing Project.  Wolz is the Project’s principal investigator; I am a co-PI along with Monisha Pulimood. The other TCNJ members of our team are gender equity specialist Mary Switzer, several TCNJ student research assistants, and a select group of volunteer mentors. Meredith Stone is our external evaluator.

Our hypothesis was that students who don’t think of themselves as “computing types”  can be successfully introduced to computing and programming concepts by learning to do multimedia journalism about their own communities. Our research results more than validate our hypothesis.

In this interview, Dr. Broach lauded the constructivist nature of the IJIMS model – a method of teaching the emphasizes collaboration and discovery, making students participants in creating knowledge, not merely absorbing knowledge. Broach noted that the Fisher teachers and guidance counselor who collaborated with us also received training in multimedia journalism and programming in Scratch. This, he said was a departure from the usual professional development model, because it required the teachers to learn skills that weren’t necessarily part of their training.

By the way, one of the Fisher teachers, Laura Fay, recently presented her experience teaching the Scratch programming language in the 8th grade language arts classroom at a meeting for investigators in the BPC program. You can read the notes from the presentation she and Ursula Wolz gave on the IJIMS project:

You’re gonna need to read this, but it won’t be on Amazon

The National Academies Report on a Workshop on the Scope and Nature of Computational Thinking sounds dry, but its implications will be fascinating to watch. The monograph is a write-up of a 2009 gathering of computing experts that considered the emerging understanding of computational thinking and its implications for education. A follow-up workshop this month will consider the challenges of teaching computational thinking in more detail. I’m pleased to say that my colleague Ursula Wolz is one of the discussants. Ursula is the PI on our Broadening Participation in Computing project, the Interactive Journalism Institute for Middle Schoolers. Her leadership on the IJIMS project has been creative and visionary, and it’s exciting to see it have an impact on the direction that computing education and practice will take in the future.