Jaymes Dec Teaches Students to Use Computer Code to Create Art

Jaymes Dec loves technology and art, as well as building and design, all of which he weaves into his inspiring teaching at Dwight Global.

This semester — his first at Dwight — Mr. Dec is teaching a Creative Coding class to 8th graders. The objective is to teach the students to use code to express themselves artistically. He was an early advocate for changing STEM to STEAM, being sure to include the arts in scientific studies. He was also an early advocate for makerspaces, creative places where students learn by building. In that regard, he co-founded NYC Makery, which organized community makerspaces in basements, restaurants, art galleries, and schools. Mr. Dec also did a Tedx Talk on the virtues of hands-on learning, and co-authored a book entitled, “Tech DIY, Easy Electronics Projects for Parents and Kids.”  

Mr. Dec calls upon all his experiences to inform his teaching at Dwight Global, which he discusses in this Q&A.    

Can you talk about Creative Coding, the class you are teaching?

It’s an elective course for 8th graders, and the idea is to have them use code to create art. I think of the class as programming art for the Web. We are exploring coding languages such as Logo and Scratch. Towards the end of the year, students will use JavaScript to design artistic websites. For projects, they’ll design screen-based graphics, figurative drawings, and abstract images using code.

For one assignment they used code to create images in the style of Mondrian, the modern painter known for grid-based paintings. And for a final assignment, they wrote code to recreate the intricate patterns of the Islamic tiles. We hope to have them print their patterns on fabric or paper so that they have a physical artifact to share with the world. 

You are known for creating makerspaces. Does your coding class have a makerspace element? 

The act of making is an important part of this class. I teach students to express themselves with tools. Learning to use a tool expands your sense of self and your range of expressibility. In the past, the pencil was a tool that students used to learn to write. Researchers later found that writing helped children develop their minds, their brains. Coding is the tool we use in this class. It’s like an art class or a writing class. I teach them how to use tools and invite them to be expressive with them. 

When you are making something that you care about, you have clear goals and are intrinsically motivated because it’s your project. I teach students how to learn or teach them how to teach themselves to learn. Seymour Papert was a big influence on me. He’s one of the fathers of AI and he created Logo, the first computer language explicitly designed for children. He also developed the idea of constructionism, which says that children should be active participants in the construction of their own learning. I agree.  

What effect did the pandemic and remote learning have on your teaching? 

I was teaching at a face-to-face school then, and the pandemic made it hard for students and classes to meet in labs and a maker space. So I took an increasing interest in code, especially since it’s based on computers and students have computers at home. I began to examine code as a tool for artistic expressivity. I enjoy coding but I’m not a computer scientist. My class is more like a coding class in an art school.  

Do you enjoy teaching online? 

I really enjoy it. It sounds counterintuitive, but I feel like I get to know my students better in online classes. I’ve spoken to other teachers who feel the same way. Computer coding is screen based, so it’s a good subject to teach online, which is also screen based. The online classes at Dwight Global are also small – I have eight students in my class– so I’m getting to know each student individually. Dwight Global also has its teachers organize their curriculum on Canvas at the beginning of each semester. So I come to my classes prepared with my lesson plans all mapped out. In the past, at other schools, I tended to improvise in my classes, which can work. But I am enjoying the more structured way that Dwight Global approaches teaching and learning.  

You’ve said that young designers, artists, and scientists are the best hope for our imperiled planet. Do you still believe that? 

Yes. I think clearly the world is kind of a messed-up place, more now than ever. To solve problems like climate change, inequality, and continued pandemics, we’ll need more designers and engineers and scientists and artists. And we’ll need to have them from diverse backgrounds. I was an early proponent of going from STEM to STEAM. It’s essential for teachers to encourage students to be expressive by writing a poem, making a drawing, or building a robot. Students learn best when creating artifacts that they’ll share with the class, and with the world. So yes: They’ll be the ones to create solutions to save our planet.   

Can you talk about your background?

I studied economics at NYU. While there, I co-founded a company called City Hunt. We produced team building scavenger hunts in NYC, then for clients in Europe, Asia, and North America. I did that for a while, then returned to grad school at NYU to get a master’s degree in Interactive Telecommunications. I learned way more than I ever imagined and loved the program. I also found I enjoyed teaching, so after I got my master’s I took a job teaching at GreenFab, a high school STEM program for students in the South Bronx. After that, I developed a Fab Lab for the Marymount School, where I taught technology for several years before coming this summer to teach at Dwight Global. I’m also an adjunct professor at Columbia’s Teachers College.  

Can you tell us about the makerspace in your basement?  

It’s filled with tools like vinyl cutters and 3D printers, soldering irons, microcontrollers, and Lego robotics. I used to build pop-up maker spaces, and for that I collected a lot of cool tools that I now store in my basement. I use some of the tools with my current students. I should add that my backyard is also home to two chickens, Betty and Wilma, named after the wives in the Flintstones. We got them for their eggs, but they turned out to be really social and they like to hang out with us and keep us entertained!

This is your first semester teaching at Dwight Global. How are you enjoying?  

I’m really impressed with Dwight Global. It’s a global school with teachers and students from all over the world. But after only a few months of teaching, I already feel part of the community. It’s hard to balance those two things – to have a global school with a community sensibility but Dwight Global has managed to accomplish that. More than any other school, Dwight Global understands how to conduct engaging experiences online for students. And it’s filled with great students and super-supportive teachers. I’m happy to be teaching here.