Cynthia Brawner is a veteran teacher with more than 25 years of experience, and she currently teaches all subjects (math, science, ELA, social studies, writing, and coding) to her third-graders at James Wadsworth STEM Elementary School in Chicago, IL. She also runs afterschool computer science, podcasting, videography, and inventor clubs for students in grades 3–8. Cynthia is a Pilot Light Food Education Fellow, a Field Museum Ambassador, a DonorsChoose Teacher Ambassador, a Scholastic SuperSTEM Advisor, a Teacher Leader for the Museum of Science and Industry’s School Partners Program, and a Global Schools Mentor.
Cynthia states that her mission as an educator is to “empower as many students as possible through academic exposure to help students have a voice and reach their full potential.” When she first learned about the inequities that exist for Black students in computer science, she was disappointed and angry. “I wanted to blame others,” she says. “Instead, I decided to be that change agent.” She took it upon herself to start learning about computer science and incorporating it into her curriculum and afterschool programs.
When Cynthia questioned the lack of Black and Latinx students in invention conventions (a computer science–heavy event) and in computer science demonstration videos, she heard that Black students’ reading skills weren’t good enough to start learning computer science at younger ages. She was told that “maybe in middle school, the teacher would introduce the computer.” This experience inspired her disrupt inequities for her young Black student, and she advocated tirelessly for more computers in elementary classrooms. With a bank of five computers for her class of 25, she shared Code.org with her students, and they began to learn coding together.
From there, it was off to the races! Cynthia continued to seek out development opportunities that would enable her to teach tech skills to her students. She launched afterschool coding classes, to which she continues to add new components like podcasting, videography, and writing, using Soundtrap, Adobe Express, and the Google and Microsoft suites of office software. In the current school year, she is adding sessions on computational thinking and careers in computer science, and her students will get to make use of tools from micro:bits to Raspberry Pi to Hummingbird Bit Robotics Kits. She also partnered with Girls Who Code to create a coding club for girls and nonbinary students, and with Amazon Future Engineers to create one for boys and nonbinary students, allowing students to choose the club that feels most comfortable for their gender alignment.
Throughout her career as a computer science educator, Cynthia has proactively sought out partnerships and platforms to improve her students’ experience and access to new opportunities. As the lead teacher for her school’s partnership with the Museum of Science and Industry, she receives monthly trainings and leads in the creation of action plans for equitable, schoolwide access to STEM and computer science education. She has taken advantage of development opportunities wherever she can find them, including robotics training through Infosys, training on paper circuits through Chibitronics, and training on Scratch via Girls Who Code. Each of these educational opportunities has provided Cynthia with new sets of tools and skills, and her goal throughout is to find new ways to, in her words, “close learning gaps and give students a voice that empowers them.”
As a CSTA Equity Fellow, Cynthia hopes to learn more about the inequalities that exist in computer science and the strategies her cohort of fellows have used to disrupt them. The diversity of perspectives this fellowship offers is a true draw for Cynthia, who says, “I want to collaborate with others with similar thoughts and those who differ.” Using an inquiry-based approach, she hopes to develop her skills as a computer scientist and an educator, digesting as many new concepts, tools, and ideas as she can over the course of her fellowship.
“Basically,” Cynthia says, “I want to be proactive.” She hopes to create written action plans that identify strategies and training opportunities to create more equitable computer science classrooms. She believes in the value of trainings offered “for teachers by teachers and for students by students.” Through collaboration, hard work, and perpetual learning, Cynthia believes she will emerge from the fellowship “as a more robust and wiser change agent for CS education.”
Cynthia can’t wait to work with her cohort to “change mindsets in the CS world, one classroom at a time!”