in Educator of the Month

January Educator of the Month: Our Very Own Educator Turned Engineer (and OzoBlockly Expert!)

We have a special place in our hearts for our Ozobot employees. Here at HQ, we’re not just co-workers; we’re a family with a like-minded mission to create and inspire with code. Every team member has been thoughtfully plucked from their previous roles to put their unique skills to work at Ozobot. It’s safe to say we have a whole group of inspirational colleagues, but there’s one in particular we’d like to spotlight this month.

Allow us to introduce our January Creator of the Month–our first-ever internal CreatorTheresa Rapior! Theresa joined our Edu team in May 2017 as an Education Curriculum Specialist, developing Ozobot lessons for the Lesson Library, then just last year transitioned into a role with our Technology team as a Jr. Software Engineer. Read on to get inspired by her career path and discover how we can all make an impact with coding!

As you went through grade school, what did you want to be when you “grew up”?
I wanted to be an archaeologist my whole childhood, and I did go to university in Scotland and got a degree in it. I still love that work, but when I graduated in 2011, and the world felt so uncertain, it was the future that I wanted to participate in instead of the past. I’m in technology and education today to make the future less uncertain for others.

How did you first start learning coding and programming?
I worked as a teacher in South Korea, which I loved, and then decided to move to the USA. I continued to teach. I was lucky to teach my own lessons and I started to get tons of ideas for how to use students’ creativity and curiosity to learn much more effectively than they do now, especially with technology. I studied sites and apps that influence the world and started to learn how to build web applications with JavaScript and Ruby using online tutorials.

What do you think your greatest coding challenge has been thus far, and how did you overcome it?
Computer Science and coding can feel overwhelming sometimes because it’s hard to be sure if you know enough or how far you’ve gotten. So for me the biggest challenge was confidence that I knew enough to create what I wanted to. It felt wrong to have more questions than answers in my head.

It was actually working with our block-based coding platform (OzoBlockly) that helped me realize that I knew 90% of the language. From there I challenged myself to write short, eloquent code that made Evo and Bit do interesting and useful things. (On top of that, watching my colleagues code showed me that I’m supposed to have more questions than answers, and that any answer I need can likely be found online or asking others.)

What education, seminars, courses, or online learning do you feel has or have been most beneficial to where you wanted to take your career?
I absolutely love codecademy.com and I think it’s fantastic for people just learning a coding language the first time. They are adding more technology courses beyond coding that I look forward to checking out. YouTube is also full of amazing teachers and creators, and you can find whatever you need. Stack Overflow (stackoverflow.com) is perhaps the most important resource for every coder, because all you need to do is search an error or your current goal, and someone has already answered a similar question, with code already written.

How did you first hear about Ozobot and come to work for us?
I was teaching for work and coding in my free time, and saw that there was a need for Computer Science education and content all over the world. I thought my love of computers, and for creating new lessons could be used in this field well. That’s what motivated me to look into what companies were in Los Angeles, and I’d say I’m truly lucky that Ozobot wanted exactly the skills and experience I had worked on those last couple of years!

Theresa & Evo team up for the “Best in Office” Halloween costume: a unit of the Borg.

Give us the rundown on some of your favorite programs or lessons you created with OzoBlockly while on the Edu team!
My favorite lesson is about Dorothy Vaughan, one of the first computer programmers at NASA who, importantly, was a woman and African-American. The reason I love this lesson is because I got to show my admiration for a heroine, geek out about space and physics, and throw in a nod to FORTRANan early programming language used for mathematical equations (I’m a little obsessed with the early days of digital computers).

The OzoBlockly program for this is simple, but I hope it blows students minds when it helps them realize that a math equation both reflects how the universe works and is a definition of an idea like a dictionary entry. So, in this lesson, we see that Force is Mass times Acceleration, where the multiplication part shows the relationship between mass and changing its speed (acceleration), which therefore defines what ‘force’ means. (And when you change up the formula, you get a definition for mass, which is force divided by acceleration).

And although it’s an oversimplification of the physics needed to launch a rocket into space, the simple formula for force in this lesson aims to show the basic principle of sending heavy things into space with more force (thrust) than gravity.

How did you develop Evo’s Unicorn & Racer Tricks after joining the Engineering team?
A few of us worked together on the ideas for what we thought would be fun experiences and hackable programs for a unicorn and a race car. A unicorn seemed magical and knowledgeable to us, and we wanted to make use of new sounds. It also let us explore randomness in computers, which is not truly random (see the Random Story Generator lesson to learn more about this!).

The Racer program allowed us to build a re-playable game where the first code you might change is just game settings, and then when you’re more confident, you can go deeper into the heart of the code. These are bigger, more complex programs than many lessons, so they needed a lot of planning! But that has definitely helped a lot as I move into software that needs thoughtful planning, thinking ahead, and understanding the many parts.

How has the transition from educator to engineer gone for you?
I’m excited that I achieved my goal from a few years ago, which was to become an engineer in the education space and get to work on some really exciting ideas for the future. So far, I love problem-solving and learning every moment of my day. The positive impact these tools will have will be fundamental to teachers’ and students’ coding and learning experience with Ozobot!

Besides creating with code, what is your favorite hobby or interest to geek out about in your free time?
It’s funny to teach students what you learned in school and realize how amazing those facts are. So, I’ve actually been interested in the natural world quite a bit lately. I like reading about minerals and gardening, especially permaculture, and seeing the use of each plant and rock. I learned that quartz given an electrical current is used in watches and clocks to count seconds quite accurately. As advanced as our technology gets, I think it’s important to understand and respect nature, and work with it to the benefit of all.

Is there a challenge you’d like to issue to the #OzoSquad to take any of your programs or methods and do something new?
My challenge for everyone is to discover how many code categories in OzoBlockly they can understand and find a use for. And for those they’re not sure about yet, read about their purpose then create something cool with them. Pretty soon, you will be able to understand the breadth of any coding syntax and be able to create anything from there! (And don’t forget to explore the Examples section of OzoBlockly for ideas.)


What do you want kids of all ages who interact with your work and creations to take away from it?

Thank you for this question! My hope is that each lesson and program are off the beaten path just enough to make students wonder about other ways to engage with what they are learning in school and enjoy in their own time. If they’re inspired to think differently and creatively, then they are already equipped to build a future for themselves that matches
maybe exceedstheir dreams.

 

Thank you Theresa, for inspiring creativity and coding in both roles with Ozobot HQ! Follow Theresa on Twitter to see more of her coding creations. And don’t forget…

Coding is Creative!
Tech skills alone don’t spur big ideas—creative visions do. That’s why education at home and in the classroom should span science, technology, engineering, the arts, and math (think STEAM, not STEM). Whether you see yourself as a future artist, astronaut, or entrepreneur, our goal at Ozobot is to kick start your creativity and coding skills with playtime that strengthens your whole mind.

To learn more, explore Ozobot’s 2 Ways to Code:
OzoBlockly >
Color Codes >

For Educators and Students:
OzoBlockly Basic Training >
Color Codes Basic Training >
150+ STEAM Lessons >

Creator of the Month – Official Rules