Posted by CSTA on May 04, 2023
Krystal is no stranger to finding creative ways to bring attention to the often overlooked, yet extremely gifted, minoritized students in her area.
Krystal Chatman is an instructional technology facilitator in the Jackson Public School District in Jackson, Mississippi. She has fourteen years of experience as an educator in the classroom and the biomedical research industry, teaching and training students from high school to undergraduate, graduate, and med school. She received her BS in biology from Millsaps College and her MS in biological sciences from Mississippi College. In her current role, Krystal provides support to all PreK–12 teachers in her district to help them integrate technology into their daily instructional practices.
Krystal is no stranger to finding creative ways to bring attention to the often overlooked, yet extremely gifted, minoritized students in her area. Jackson Public School District is the second largest district and the largest urban school district in the state; it is fully Title I, and over 95% of its students are minorities. Many of these students have not had the opportunity to meet or work with STEM professionals that look like them. This is something Krystal believes is unacceptable. She makes it her mission to increase their access and advocate for equity-focused education strategies in her district and across the state.
Mississippi recently approved a statewide CS curriculum, but there have still been many hurdles to overcome, from limited resources to student nervousness around the new field of CS. With little access to Black subject matter experts in her area, Krystal tapped into her friend and professional networks to recruit guest speakers and trainers. At a yearly Teen Symposium, experts from various STEM fields hosted workshops to familiarize students with career opportunities and expectations in those fields. “Each year,” says Krystal, “the speaker would address a full room.”
Her school also collaborated with a local college to write and implement a four-year grant to introduce female and minority students to robotics, VR/AR, UX/UI, coding, media production, website building, and graphic design. The program was a phenomenal success at getting students excited and engaged about learning. Krystal notes that students that may not engage as eagerly with schoolwork compare to their peers “would eagerly wait after school to collaborate with their team to build circuits and experience virtual reality.”
As she worked to introduce students to computer science, Krystal says, “I knew I had to focus on how they felt about CS rather than the content.” Noticing that students were nervous to pursue computer science classes, she established a Girls Who Code club—the first in her area—and opened it up to students of all genders. In the first year, they focused on passion projects and peer-to-peer learning. The next year, the club had grown in size as students shared their excitement with peers, and they ended the year by attending an all-girls hackathon at a nearby university.
In early CS classes in her district, Krystal worked to build student confidence by starting the year with a no-code app building project for the Congressional App Challenge. She allowed students to be their own teachers, working collaboratively to choose their project, research solutions, build the app in Code.org, and troubleshoot any problems that arose. This approach gave the students a strong feeling of ownership and pride in the finished product, and they learned to see themselves as competent creators who were equipped to build their CS skills. Krystal notes, “Although the competition is purely a means to get them motivated to attempt a new skill, I was very proud [that] our teams have placed for our state and district multiple years.” Over the years, Krystal’s course load has increased from one class to four, and interest in the course continues to grow.
“I am always excited to witness the transformation of the students, regardless of their starting point,” Krystal says. “CS [is] a vehicle to build student confidence in their ability to bring their ideas to fruition.” Students who participate in self-guided work in Krystal’s CS classes have brought their new habits to other classes, displaying more trust in themselves to tackle hard problems on their own and reach appropriate solutions. It’s an attitude Krystal works hard to foster. When she spots students with particular interest in pursuing tech, she invites them to join the school’s tech team, where they assist Krystal in leading tech training for teachers. She and her students also take turns sharing tech tips as part of the morning announcements.
Heading into the CSTA Equity Fellowship, Krystal is most excited to build a stronger network of equity-focused CS professionals. In her local educator newtork, she often advocates for identity-focused instruction as discussions about why and even if equity is important still dominate conversations. She believes once enough educators lead and teach with equity in mind, transformative teaching and learning can occur.. “In a group of educators [who] agree equity is needed, more energy could be put toward creating solutions to the problem we are all working to eliminate,” says Krystal.
She also hopes to strengthen her coaching, pedagogy, and advocacy skills, so that she can be the best possible resource to the teachers and students in her district. Krystal wants to continue growing as a PD provider, mentor, and coach, aiming to be “engaging, educational, and impactful.” As the CS field expands in her district and state, she wants to support decision-makers as they better understand the value of learning CS skills, and she is eager to grow her CS education advocacy toolkit in collaboration with her cohort.
“I love being in a position to educate and build complex solutions for people,” says Chatman. “Tech shouldn’t be ‘scary’! With a little communication and brain power, no problem is impossible to solve.”