Low Tech… No Stress! Coding and Making in NYC Public Schools with Gwynn White-Best

Learning in the Making is a video series where we invite guest hosts of color on as equal and valued partners and collaborators, so that they can tell their stories and showcase the amazing things they are making and doing! In addition to learning with our guests through video project guides, we also interview our hosts to learn a little bit more about them.

In this post, Maker Ed chats with Ms. Gwynn White-Best: Library Media Specialist at a NYC public school, educator for 20+ years, coder, and maker. Create with her in Learning in the Making: Paper Box Motion Story.

Tell us a bit more about yourself!

A photo of Ms. White Dressing Up for Character Day as “Not A Box!”
Ms. White Dressing Up for Character Day as “Not A Box!”

My name is Gwynn White-Best. I am the Library Media Specialist for the Robin Hood Library Media Center, at the Dr. Ronald E. McNair/ P.S. 5 school. It is located in the heart of Bedford-Stuyvesant in Brooklyn, New York. My school is a PreK-5 Title I school.

I have been an educator for over 20 years. I was a classroom teacher for 11 years. I am currently a certified library media specialist. Everyday I have the pleasure of working with amazing students from grades Pre-kindergarten through fifth grade. 

As the school’s Library Media Specialist, this has allowed me to establish a learning environment to meet and enhance children’s needs. My main objective is to ensure that the library media center is integrated into the school’s overall instructional goals. 

Not only do I teach information literacy lessons, I also teach computer science. I became interested in computer science when I saw there was a lack of representation of girls in the coding field. In 2016, I started an after-school program to introduce girls to coding. I am now a Teacher Trainer for computer science and my role is to help train other teachers, at our school, to implement computer science into their classrooms as well as bring meaningful CS activities and events to highlight the importance of CS in our school. 

I created a Makerspace in our school Library to bring STEAM activities to our students. I was one of the recipients of the 2019 Excellence in School Technology awards for creating this amazing space where my students can be explorers and creators!

What’s one thing about yourself that you think is important for others to know? 

I think that it is important for people to know that I am a 100% supporter of public education! No where else in the country can you find a public educational system where students have access to opportunities to learn and grow and that is free to all students. I have devoted my life to working for the NYC Department of Education. It has provided me with an education, as a graduate of elementary, middle school, and high school! My daughter is a second grader at a wonderful public school in Brooklyn, NY. Now I am playing it forward and doing my best to teach amazing students every day. The public education system gets a bad reputation sometimes, especially now during this COVID-19 pandemic. However, I know that the opportunities and amazing programs that students have access to through the NYCDOE are unmatched to any learning institution across this country. Please don’t say anything disparaging about the organization I love dearly, or you will hear a piece of my mind!

A photo of Ms. White and Kindergarten students honoring the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
Ms. White and Kindergarten students honoring the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

On November 30, 2020 our school participated in a unique and empowering community event to honor former Congress Member Shirley Chisholm on what would have been her 96th birthday. This event grew out of the need to raise funds for voting rights activist Stacey Abrams Fair Fight Campaign. P.S.5 partnered with Chez Oskar’s owner Charlotta Janssen, to bring awareness and to uplift the community while connecting the dots between history and today. I was charged with creating a 30 minute video that showcased our teachers, blended learning students, and 100% remote students to bring awareness of Shirley Chisholm’s journey, which helped open the doors for women to enter into this once male-dominated field. Students and teachers took the time out to record segments of Shirley Chisholm’s biography and the biases and prejudices she faced as a black person, but even more as a woman. I compiled P.s 5’s video footage and photo images to create this tribute titled “Unbossed & Unbrought” which was Ms. Chisholm’s campaign slogan. This video was streamed outside of Chez Oskar in Brooklyn, NY on November 30th and December 7th. Together, P.S.5 and Chez Oskar were able to raise $1500 towards the Fair Fight Campaign. Our students and staff were proponents for racial literacy! Stacey Abrams was recently nominated for the 2021 Nobel Peace Prize. This was an exciting and exhilarating experience for me!!

Watch the video above, or click on the link to open in a new tab: Shirley Chisholm Unbossed & Unbrought 

What excites you most about your work? 

Getting to work everyday knowing that my day is going to be different from the day before always excites me! Using the library as a vehicle to expand on my teaching and learning as a librarian, makerspace teacher, and computer science teacher is a journey that I look forward to everyday! Since transforming our school’s Robin Hood library Media Center into a space that not only supports literacy based activities, it has become the “hub” for creativity and innovation. I’ve integrated a “Makerspace” where students focus on STEAM activities: making, learning, exploring, and sharing through high-tech to no-tech tools. These engaging activities, through our makerspace, have changed the dynamics of the library! I am also lucky to be a teacher of computer science through the Software Engineering Program Junior (SEPjr) for New York City’s Computer Science for All (CS4ALL)  program. It’s so exciting to introduce our students to this high-quality computer science program. I am also blessed to work with the CS4All Culturally Responsive and Sustaining Education Ingenuity Team. This amazing group of educators and myself work to explore equity in computer science, design racial literacy lessons that empowers students to be agents of social change, and to embed a student-centered learning environment that affirms racial and cultural identities and fosters positive academic outcomes for all NYC Public School students with a focus on Black, brown, Latinx, and female students! I can honestly say that there’s never a dull moment in my school day!

Group photograph of Ms. White with 5 fifth grade girls.
Fifth Grade Technology Ambassadors work with other students to teach computer activities.

Why do you make? 

I have always been a creative person so making came very naturally to me. Making allows me to use all art forms to create amazing stuff! Since this pandemic I found it essential that my students have accessible materials to continue making in the virtual world. Since 60% of my lessons are taught remotely, I need to find ways to have students make what I like to call “Low Tech…No Stress Materials.” There are certain materials that most students will have available around their homes. I design my maker activities that utilize what students already have access to. Materials for the Arts (MFTA) provides NYC arts nonprofits, public schools and city agencies with access to free materials. I have picked up loads and loads of materials from MFTA to use with my students. There is something about starting a project from scratch using materials that, to someone else, looks disposable, and creating something unique, inspiring, and meaningful. I love to integrate library lessons and making, which is why I wanted to have students create their own paper motion story box. 

What dreams do you have for young people? 

This generation of young people have multiple entry points to create change on so many different levels. They should use social media, use campaigns and protests, use technology, and use the arts. I want them to understand why these injustices are happening, think about how to emotionally identify with them, then take action to lessen the harm and to create change within their communities! Our young people should never be afraid to find their voice and use it!

Group photo of Ms. White teaching coding to kindergarteners.
Kindergarten Students create algorithms to program Code-and-Go-Mouse.

If you could share one word of advice to give to other educators, what would it be? 

The best advice that I would give to other educators would be to constantly find new ways to make teaching exciting! Always look for creative and innovative ways to enhance their teaching. Doing the same things the same way can become mundane and rudimentary. As a librarian, I am always looking for new ways to keep my lessons fresh and current. I incorporate the arts into my lessons as much as possible, along with computer science and making. I love using literacy and integrating technology. My students enjoy the hands-on activities and projects that support their library experiences! Educators should never be afraid to try something different. It may feel strange or challenging at first, but the gift of innovation will always bring joy and a sense of accomplishment. 

Are there other makers and educators in your community whose work you’d like to celebrate?

Yes! There is a team of teachers at my school who are working towards building Leadership values to our students through the Leader In Me Program. Rashidah Nasir, Nika Cuffie, and Janet Palaguachi are amazing educators who are collaboratively working to bring this Leadership framework to our students, staff, and families. All three come with different levels of expertise and use their gifts and talents to bring this essential program to our school. Kudos to them!

Also, I would like to shout out Pat Wong, who is an amazing educator at P.S. 21, The Margaret Emery Elm Park School, located in Staten Island, N.Y. She wears several hats, being a coach, trainer, and facilitator for several different organizations. Pat and I have made a video together that focuses on Culturally Responsive education practices. Pat also develops amazing Culturally Responsive lessons and Racial Literacy lessons that I often “steal” and use with my students! Thanks Pat for being the carer and sharer that you are!



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