“Always look at where you want to go — not where you don’t want to be.”
By Moira Turner, p5.js Project Lead
Earlier this year, the p5.js community embarked on a process to make space for the future of p5.js, by transitioning to a rotating project leadership model. We held an open call for our inaugural rotating p5.js project lead, whose role over the one year term is to steward the p5.js project, software, and community. A group of 15 volunteers from the community guided the process through an open call, interviews, and final selection. The selection team considered each applicant’s experience and potential for organizing, community building, technical direction, and commitment to diversity, inclusion, and access. We looked especially for the ability to work open and collaboratively, considering how this role could support learning for the community as well as the lead. We asked how the p5.js community could provide collective mentorship to support the project lead stepping into this new role. It was a very difficult decision with so many visionary applicants. We are excited to repeat this process next year and continue building the p5.js leadership.
Today, we are happy to introduce our new p5.js project lead, Moira Turner! Moira studied Anthropology and African American studies before joining the non-profit 9 Dots, where she taught computer science classes to underrepresented students to address the K-12 CS pipeline, while teaching herself to code. Welcome Mo! We are so excited about the new leadership and perspective you bring to the project, and looking forward to learning and working with you!
— Lauren Lee McCarthy
I fastened the last buckle of my helmet as I was about to mount my Suzuki GSX 250R motorcycle. Through my protective gear I could hear my students shouting from the gate, “Ms. Turner! Ms. Turner! We are gonna miss you!” A group of them had gathered at the school gates to say goodbye. It was my last day teaching at Emerson Elementary School. For the past year, I had been teaching computer-science to the kindergartener up to the 7th graders. . Through it all, we had grown fond of each other. But sadly summer was here and classes were over. I gave a couple of loud revs on my bike before making my final exit, student cheers echoing in the background. At that moment I felt like a superhero. But this moment has broader significance than a personal confidence boost.
In an industry where women of color are severely underrepresented, making up only 4.8% of computer-science college graduates, having a Black woman as a tech teacher was a rare sight to see. In a school like Emerson, where most of the students are Black and Brown, this lack of representation has significant impact. I taught K-6 computer science in underserved schools for three years, and during that time I conducted research on students’ sense of identity and belonging in a coding class. What we found was that students visualize computer scientists as white and male, and that stereotypes about who is, or is not, fit for computer science start as early as third grade, often affecting young girls.
In motorcycling there is a concept called hyperfocus. When trying to avoid an object in the road, you should look towards your destination, not at the object you are trying to avoid. Many new riders get caught up staring at the object they want to avoid and inevitably run into it. Why? Because we steer our bodies to whatever our eyes are fixed on. Always look at where you want to go — not where you don’t want to be. The deficit of representation of people of color in CS leaves students without role models, which exacerbates stereotypes and perpetuates the cycle. It’s important that historically marginalized students have role models so they can imagine themselves in this field and, by doing so, actualize that reality by steering towards it.
When I arrived at Emerson, I would work in collaboration with site teachers to build an environment where students who often don’t feel successful can see themselves in a positive light. We worked to build inclusive experiences that allowed young, underrepresented students the opportunity to build foundational computational-thinking skills and promoted interest in a future in CS and related fields. Because historically marginalized groups are often deprived of aspirational role models in tech, relationship-building and intentional environments were key in providing my students with a destination to move towards. As Maya Angelou so aptly put it: “People will forget what you said… but people will never forget how you made them feel.” Being a superhero has implications.
However, heroic role models aren’t only needed for young students. I never anticipated that I would become a CS Teacher, nonetheless a programmer. But as a recent graduate from USC, I liked the idea of teaching computer science. Given that we live in a technological world, it is of the utmost importance that students are equipped not only with the tools necessary to navigate such a world, but the agency required to influence it. This is especially true for low-income communities, communities of color, women, and disabled folks — all of whom tend to be relegated to the margins of the influential discourse, policy, and commerce that heavily steers our digital world.
I wanted to change that. I liked that CS education offers the opportunity to develop grit and resilience in students when an inclusive environment with a productive failure culture is established.A productive failure culture, or debugging mindset, affords students the environment necessary to think creatively, take risks, and tackle challenges. I wanted to promote independence by pushing students to think metacognitively about their learning process, so they can have agency over their own learning rather than rely on the teacher for the “right” answer.
It was through witnessing my students’ reflect while debugging that I felt encouraged to think metacognitively about my own learning and my journey as a coder. Clusters of students would huddle around a fellow student’s computer to solve a bug. “What did you expect to happen?” “Where do you want it to go?’ (It means the tiny animal robot that students controlled using lines of code) “What happened instead?” Students eagerly faced challenges and worked in collaboration to overcome bugs as a team. Even though I taught computer science, during my first year of teaching I never once considered myself a coder. Although I pushed my students to be empowered as coders, I never offered myself the same consideration. My students weren’t the only one in need of a superhero. As a Black femme person, much like my students, I don’t see many people who look like me in STEM spaces. Like so many of my students, I didn’t have a clear vision to work towards. Plus, coding was not easy for me. For a variety of social and cultural reasons, from a young age I learned quickly that you do things you’re good at — but I was not innately good at coding. That was the beauty of coding: bugs are inevitable, a constructive part of the coding process. By establishing a debugging classroom I was forced to unpack my own assumptions about failure and debugging. It was also an opportunity for me to empathize with my students by becoming vulnerable to making mistakes, a space very rarely occupied by the standard notion of the “all knowing” sage/teacher. Working with my students pushed me to challenge these notions I had internalized.
I decided to take what I’d gleaned from the classroom and institute some changes in my own life. I took on an opportunity to further my capacity as a coder and joined a CS fellowship where I taught myself how to code. It was through this self-teaching experience that I realized that, despite the frequent bugs, I thoroughly enjoy the act of coding. I decided to pursue it further. I worked on a variety of projects, including developing technology for unionized labor forces, and now I have the pleasure to work with the p5.js project.
I was first introduced to the p5 project when I was used it as a teaching tool to create creative coding experiences for my students. There, students were exposed to a new platform to express themselves creatively, but it also allowed them to form mentorships with one another to support each others’ coding endeavors. As the p5 lead, I intend to bring what I learned from the classroom into this position. Representation and accessibility matter. I joined p5 because of its commitment to accessibility, diversity, and inclusion in all aspects: from the inclusive community statement to the implementation of the code base. It’s a joy to work with an organization that shares my values.
In this role I hope to work with the p5 community to continue to create exceptional learning experiences that foster inclusivity much in the same way as I did in the classroom. I want to empower each other to push past our internalized notions of what we think is possible for ourselves. Beyond addressing representation and role models, I plan to use my position to create resources that tangibly promote the sustainable incorporation of marginalized communities. I look forward to joining a community that has consistently demonstrated its commitment to equity and hope to use my role in a way that continues that legacy.