Making a difference with Oracle Academy
The spotlight is on Evelyn Ramírez, Institutional Coordinator, Colegio Miravalle, Costa Rica.
Colegio Miravalle, located in Cartago, 50km south of Costa Rica’s capital, San Jose, is a private K-12 institution that teaches students from ages 3 to 17. It operates a teaching model emphasizing active methodologies, which include project-based learning, oriented towards the development of critical thinking and problem-solving skills in children and young people.
Miravalle’s mission statement is to promote collaborative learning that results in the advancement of knowledge-hungry, entrepreneurial students. Moreover, its focus is rooted in nurturing competencies and skills, while teaching computer programming, and to achieve this, basic programming is taught as of age 6 using the Alice 3 block-based environment provided by Oracle Academy.
Miravalle makes full use of the entire Oracle Academy Java curriculum throughout the students’ learning cycle. Moreover, Colegio Miravalle instructs teachers from all over Costa Rica in Java programming teaching methods.
Evelyn Ramírez is the Institutional Coordinator of the Oracle Academy-Miravalle collaboration. In this role since 2016, she teaches classes, develops curriculum, and leads the train-the-trainer program, in which educators learn how to teach Oracle Academy curriculum and then share that knowledge with other educators.
Ramírez has a bachelor’s degree in Informatics from Universidad Americana and a licentiate’s degree (similar to a PhD) in Education from San Marcos University.
Oracle Academy: What is the main reason for teaching programming in your institution?
Evelyn Ramírez: In Miravalle we are concerned with making sure people learn and that this is a long-lasting process. This also involves teaching how to unlearn. Most of us are trained in elements of neuroscience connected to learning and we believe that computer programming is one of the best paths to develop cognitive problem-solving skills.
At the same time Costa Rica, like most of Latin America if not the world, there is a technological gap which demands more computer science professionals. We chose Oracle Academy for its well developed and broad Java curriculum, which happens to comply with our preschool, secondary, and high school requirements.
In 2018 we signed an agreement with Oracle Academy to use its curriculum, both at the high school and national levels.
Oracle Academy: Excellent. Can you describe the resources you use?
Evelyn Ramírez: We use the entire Java curriculum, but we adapt it to the pace of our classes and we review it on an annual basis. We begin with Getting Started with Java using Alice and teach that from ages 6 to 12 years. This is part of a laboratory teaching model we call ‘Kids Tic Miravalle’, which uses programming to develop cognitive thinking skills from an early age.
Next, at ages 13 and 14, students continue with Creating Java Programs with Greenfoot. With Greenfoot, they learn to write Java syntax for creating games, simulations, and applications. We also show how Greenfoot integrates with the Eclipse software development environment.
In 7th and 8th grades, at age 14 or 15, we teach them Java Fundamentals. Once again, we integrate the teaching with knowledge of Eclipse. In grades 9 upwards, students have the option to take Java Foundations and Java Programming. We believe that by the 11th grade students are well-enough trained to be certified as junior Java programmers. I like to tell them they are already ahead of some university undergraduates.
Lastly, we are now looking at how to integrate Artificial Intelligence with Machine Learning in Java. Students are excited about the role of AI in society and everyday life.
Oracle Academy: And what do the younger students do with Alice?
Evelyn Ramírez: Since our objective is to instill programming skills that can be used in all aspects of life, we involve teachers from other subjects. For instance, a teacher from social studies attended the laboratory to explain the ‘Conquest of the Americas.’ Using Alice, the boys and girls visualized the event designing animations of Christopher Columbus, his Nina, Pinta, and Santa Maria caravel ships, Queen Isabella of Castile, and other actors in this seminal moment in history. Alice resulted in a more dynamic and fun way to learn and retain names, causes, consequences, and more. Another example of transversal learning is when a science teacher used Greenfoot to explain the characteristics of different blood types; there are many other examples.
On the other hand, Miravalle also promotes bilingualism; we ensure that they follow Alice, Greenfoot and the more advanced Java courses in English. With the technical vocabulary in these tools, plus English classes, their English proficiency is higher by the time they reach high school.
Oracle Academy: Can you tell us about the teachers you train?
Evelyn Ramírez: We not only train IT teachers, but those from all disciplines who recognize the skills development possibilities of programming. I must have trained more than 200 instructors in teaching Oracle Academy curriculum.
Oracle Academy: Is it difficult to teach adults more than teaching a young population?
Evelyn Ramírez: You would be surprised! Strangely enough, it is sometimes easier to teach students than teachers. This is because some adults think that programming is complicated; they get afraid and push back. I recall, some years ago, one trainee came up to me and stated: ‘I’m here because they forced me to, not because I want to; this program is not for me.’ However, by the end of the training, he was one of the most motivated in the group! In fact, I heard that he went on to implement high-level concepts stemming from the Oracle Academy platform.
Oracle Academy: How would you evaluate Miravalle’s success in promoting problem-solving skills through active methodologies?
Evelyn Ramírez: We work under two pillars of excellence, which guide us to our objectives. The first pillar of excellence is not to force coursework on the students but to roll it out at a reasonable pace to make sure everyone is up to speed. By this I mean, Oracle Academy’s Greenfoot is a high-level curriculum nominally completed in 16 weeks. At Miravalle, we adapt it, spreading it out at a slower rhythm so that the boys and girls have the space to internalize the concepts. As a result, in 5th or 6th grades, the students at ages 10, 11 and 12 already can verbalize, in a very natural way, technology terms around object-oriented programming, procedures, tools, triggers and more.
We do the same with all of the Java curriculum and each year we sit down and thoroughly assess what we are teaching in light of advances in cognitive neurosciences, which is the bedrock of our pedagogy. I always say that the most important element in the process is to get students to fall in love with programming, not to scare them away. And we have proven that the younger they get a taste for it, the easier it is for them to move up to the next stage.
The second pillar of excellence is the development of skills through active learning. We make sure to adapt classwork to students’ abilities, not the other way around. We have standard classes, but if one student excels, we’ll feed him or her more; likewise, with a slower learner, we adapt accordingly. But what really drives this pillar is the involvement and joy of learning. To foster that, we introduce lots of roleplay, and so, in the Java courses we assign technology-related job titles to each student, for example, systems analyst or project manager. They then work in teams to excel in their job roles, develop projects and therefore increase their programming and decision-making skills.
In summary, all of our curriculum is aimed at skills development. This may sound obvious, but believe me, we frequently get requests from other institutions for us to explain the methodology, which is recognized by the Ministry of Education.
Oracle Academy: You also teach at a university and are involved in Oracle events; can you tell us about those activities?
Evelyn Ramírez: Yes, I teach in a University in San Pedro, a little closer to San Jose. I periodically teach evening classes in networking and programming. At Miravalle, apart from teaching and curriculum development, I run Java programming workshops for visitors from other high schools.
In addition, I am active in promoting computer skills in women. In Costa Rica there is still a certain resistance and a belief that this career is not for women. Recently, I facilitated a critical thinking workshop in Miravalle, in which I had the opportunity to speak with some young women regarding the importance of the role of women in IT, providing our boys and girls with the chance to identify and propose solutions to increase the participation of women in IT.
I also participated in the International Girls in ICT Day events, and in 2021, I was a speaker at the Oracle Academy Latin America Summit, where I outlined the learning paths available and their opportunities and benefits, during the Connecting to Tech panel.
Oracle Academy: And what are your interests outside pedagogy and Miravalle?
Evelyn Ramírez: Well, learning is my passion and I continuously read on the subject and learn more. I also love arts and crafts, creating greetings cards, for example. However, the most satisfying relaxation for me is to be with my daughter and husband.
I also like to help groups of people who lack opportunities or have challenges with IT. For example, I give talks on Parental Control to explain the risks their children run in using technology in an inadequate way. It is part of my personal project to contribute to society.
Thank you, Evelyn Ramírez, for your passion for Oracle Academy and for preparing your students to make a positive impact.