Family Time: Associate professor brings creativity and computers together

Featured Faculty

Brian Hudgins | February 28, 2023

kids and student playing with crafts at a large table
Families learn to tell stories by mixing code and craft materials to create a physical computing “interface” at the Centro Cultural Hispano de San Marcos.
sean justice
Sean Justice

When Dr. Sean Justice, an associate professor in the School of Art and Design, initially devised a family learning project, he and a few of his peers had to get creative.

Families Learning Together — a community education project — has taught computational thinking through art and storytelling since 2017. Its goal is for families and kids to learn to make art and tell stories with computer programming.

Before the program could take flight, however, it needed computers. Most of the $8,000 in Research Enhancement Project funding the project received went to paying student facilitators, Justice said.

“The IT folks in the School of Art and Design started looking for repurposed computers,” he said. “We were able to get laptops at the end of their lifespans. That was so important.”

Those laptops enabled Justice and student facilitators to coordinate creative computing projects for area residents who often had novice level computing experience and no access to home computers.

As Families Learning Together expanded to include several student facilitators, the education project has offered workshops (called playshops) and maker clubs at San Marcos elementary schools, the public library, and Centro Cultural Hispano de San Marcos. Teacher education workshops have been held at the San Marcos Consolidated Independent School District.

woman pointing at copper tape on construction paper
A Texas State University student teaches 2nd and 3rd graders to build circuits with copper tape and LED lights.

“The playshops are not classes,” Justice said. “We provide a space with structure where people can explore computational material and robotics. We answer questions as best we can in an open studio format.”

Families Learning Together changes from semester to semester depending on the number of students who commit time to teach creative computing and be active in the community. “Students are still getting their bearings [after the COVID-19 pandemic],” Justice said. “The project materials are minimal, but we are trying to look for new ways to find student facilitators.”

Most of the student facilitators have been undergrads, along with a couple of grad students, too. Many of the playshop participants have been elementary and middle school students and their families — with a large number of students from second to fourth grades. Playshops are typically 90 minutes with more flexibility for longer sessions on weekends.

Justice proposed the project soon after he moved to Central Texas from New York City in 2016. Justice earned his doctorate in Art and Art Education from Columbia University, Teacher’s College, where he taught digital fabrication, physical computing, creative coding, and photography.

 “The project was the start of me getting to know Central Texas,” he said. “It was a big part of getting to know people and becoming part of the community.”

man and child building tower with cardboard box
A father and daughter built a house using cardboard that included LED lights and connected to a Scratch animation at the San Marcos Public Library.
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For more information, contact University Communications:

Jayme Blaschke, 512-245-2555

Sandy Pantlik, 512-245-2922