TEACHER: Luna Ramirez
TEACHER COHORT: New York City
SCHOOL: Thomas Edison High School
SUBJECT AREA: AP Computer Science, Web Design, Graphic Design
YEARS PARTICIPATED IN THE PROGRAM: 3
There are 75,000 teachers reaching over 1 million students across the five boroughs of New York City. One of those is Luna Ramirez, a standout teacher with a vibrant personality. In addition to her classes at Thomas Edison High School, Luna also instructs a coding boot camp at a local community college on weeknights and on weekends. Her students often emerge as finalists and winners in the Student Challenge, and she herself was awarded NYC’s Leadership Award in the 2020 competition (rewatch her acceptance video on the Challenge YouTube channel).
Luna has had great success with teaching remotely. We were able to speak with Luna to get a snapshot of her virtual classroom.
Q: What made you decide to participate in the G4C Student Challenge?
A: About 6 or 7 years ago I was feeling burned out. Mouse was doing a brand new course on web development so I did the workshop and came out feeling totally different. They told me, “Look, let’s do things student-centered. Let them do project-based by discovery.” It was amazing. They gave me the opportunity to go to a facilitator training and then I was brought into Games for Change. And the very first year students competed, we had FIVE teams in the Finals.
At the end of the day, I don’t care if they win. I don’t care if they even get to the semi-finals. I want them to feel like they are part of something bigger than themselves and they are recognized and their work is being seen by people all around the city – all around the nation. And that gives them a sense of pride for the work they do. I think that’s what Games for Change brought to me. It’s a little affirmation of your work for the students. You give them a goal. They make a product they are proud of and can show their friends. And they want to do even better next time. Games for Change helps me motivate the students.
Q: What do your students think about the program?
A: They like some of the Themes but some of them didn’t understand how to approach a Theme. I tell them, “Every Theme is related to something that is happening to you right now. We just need to see how it’s related to you.” In the past, my students have always been excited about participating but afraid that they weren’t good enough. They are excited that they’re going to be in the competition, but they are afraid that they’re not going to measure up to the challenge. I tell them “Don’t say no to yourself.”
Q: What type of environment do you strive to create in your classroom?
A: I’m goofy in the classroom. And being online I can do a lot of bitmojis and things that make the students feel more connected. I can change my background every day and they feel that I’m at the same level that they are.
Q: What has the switch to remote learning been like for you and your students?
A: Switching from live to virtual wasn’t hard for me. At the start of the year, I decided, before we even start to learn the subject, let’s learn about how you are. How are you dealing with_____? How are you going to plan your schedule with _____? How are you going to use the device that you have? Let’s make sure that you have a good foundation in how to access general remote learning and then we can address computer programming and game development. There are some days that are tough. Students start putting themselves down. And then I tell them my story. And they kind of say, “Okay, if she can do it, with all that she said about herself, then I can do it.”
This is a new way of learning. You can make mistakes and if you don’t like your grade, then redo it and resubmit it. I will regrade it for you. Making mistakes is fine. And if you’re doing the work constantly you shouldn’t be worrying about grades. Your payment is not in points – your payment is the learning experience.
Q: What are some tricks you use to keep students engaged/motivated?
A: I play dumb in my class all the time. I start typing a concept and mess up. “What did I do?” And then they’re correcting me. So they feel like they have some kind of power.
Every 2 weeks I give them a self-reflection. I tell them to look back. I say, “Compared to September, the person you were, all the struggles you went through. Remember that feeling you had that you couldn’t do it? The person you are today – can you do H1? Can you do for-loop? Can you do animation?” And their answers were “Yes, yes, yes”. Even the students that thought the worst said yes. And if you’re doing all the things you thought you couldn’t in September….then what can’t you do?
Q: What sort of challenges have you faced this year?
A: Some of the students have Chromebooks, some have laptops, some have cell phones. Some have old laptops that have too much stuff on them and overheat. Many of them are taking the class from their beds and trying to not get distracted by their little sister or little brother. I work with them to find solutions. Maybe you have to work on your cell phone, but that doesn’t mean that wall cannot be climbed. We found an app that will work on a cellphone where you can edit code. Chromebooks – always backup your work with a flash drive in case you lose the internet. I would love for every student to be learning in a computer programming editor like Sublime Text, but the reality is that not everybody has access to those things. It’s not that there’s no struggle. It’s the way that we paint it for the students.
Q: Do you have any words of advice for other educators?
A: What you’re feeling; [the students] are feeling too. They’re going to follow your lead. Even if you’re not feeling it that day, go to class like the whole world disappeared and it’s just you and your students alone. You are in your happy bubble. And welcome them into that safe place so they can also forget about the troubles they have outside of that happy bubble. You have to be a motivational speaker. Even if you don’t have it in you, you have to try. Your tone of voice, your facial expressions can either inspire the students or put them down really quickly.
Use the things that work for you in the classroom online. If you are really good at doing something in the classroom, you can do it online. You just need to see it from a different point of view. Use the skills that you have. You have been a professional for years. You have been successful for years. What makes you a successful classroom teacher? Those skills can be translated online. You can do it. I know you can.
Check-out these games created by Luna Ramirez’s students for the 2020 G4C Student Challenge competition!
2020 High School Finalist
A Clean & Happy Earth
Race against the clock in this fast-paced chase to pick up littered cigarettes. The earth is depending on you!
2020 High School Finalist
The Human-Animal Bond
A dog has been taken! Avoid the bad guys, collect coins, and do your best to reach the end of the game.
2020 High School Finalist
Get the Party Started
Insert yourself in the game and capture as many Dreamons as you can in this creative take on political party creation.