Posted: Thu, 07/01/2021 - 12:20 pm EDT
Each month, we highlight a member of the CS for All Teachers community.
Computer Science Master Teacher
Paint Branch High School + The University of Maryland
Years in education: 6
Years teaching computer science: 5
TEACHING COMPUTER SCIENCE (CS)
How did you start teaching CS? Do you have a background in CS?
I took my first CS class as a senior in high school - I went to a science and technology magnet school, and introductory Java was a graduation requirement. While most students took the course as freshmen, I was so nervous that I wouldn't be successful that I put it off until my senior year. I'm not sure why I was nervous that I would be bad at it -- I've always loved math, and as a child, one of my favorite pastimes was logic puzzle books. I had a pretty tough teacher who required us to get 100% on a written syntax quiz before we went to the lab, but I loved it. The first game I built was a simplified version of Oregon Trail, and I remember being so proud. I went on to college, where I earned degrees in Political Science and Geography, but I also chose to take about 30 hours of upper level math and CS classes. I really loved the balance that those courses added to my major workload.
After I graduated college, I spent about four years in a random array of jobs - from food runner to juice salesperson and medical credentialist - before I worked with a career coach and realized that teaching might be a great fit for me. At the time, I was a volunteer running coach through Girls on the Run, and it was the best part of my week. I went back to school through Anne Arundel Community College to get my teaching certification and started subbing. I landed my first teaching job mid-year and was hired to teach middle school tech ed. The following year, the Computer Science teacher position opened up, and I got to decide which classes I wanted to teach... I was so pumped to get to move into teaching CS! The rest is history.
How do you recruit students into your CS classes?
When I moved to the high school level, my school of over 2000 students offered only two sections of Foundations of CS. This was frustrating because other schools in the district offered entire CS pathways, including both AP CS courses. The difference? Paint Branch is made up of over 80% Black and Hispanic students. It was clear in my initial year that the students craved more offerings. In that first year, ten students in my FOCS course self-studied for the AP CS A exam. Through intentional, active recruiting, we grew our program by 350% in one year, and offered seven sections of CS in year two, including multiple sections of AP CS Principles and a full section of AP CS A. Next year, we will offer the full CS pathway to our students, including a section of Programming I, and the option for dual enrollment at the local community college or an internship. Growth was dependent on active recruiting strategies -- if students don’t know that CS is an option for them, they won’t sign up, period. I connected with the math department chair to speak in math classes and share a video with classes I wasn’t able to get to. I talked about different CS course offerings and offered one-on-one meetings so students could discuss which option was best for them. I met with counselors and discussed which students might fit best in our different options. I reached out to teachers and generated a names list of students who might be successful in CS, and then individually emailed each student inviting them to take CS based on the recommendation of their teacher. In addition, I visited feeder middle schools and spoke with eighth grade students to recruit them to take our FOCS course.
CS EDUCATION COMMUNITY
What do you enjoy most about participating in CS for All Teachers?
Many CS teachers are the only one of "them" in their building, and potentially in their whole district. CS for All Teachers helps CS teachers to feel connected and to realize that they are not alone. I remember my very first year of teaching CS, I was so overwhelmed with where to start, and I felt very alone. I had four preps, and only one had true curriculum of any kind. While other teachers in the building had colleagues to co-plan with, it was just me! I love that CS for All Teachers is a place for both social connection and sharing high quality resources - it's critical in knowing you're part of a community bigger than yourself.
Besides the CS for All Teachers community of practice, what is your favorite CS tool or resource?
I'm going to make a plug here for the CSTA (Computer Science Teachers Association) National Conference (well - international, really!). I've been attending and presenting for the last three years, and I truly believe it is the best professional development experience available for CS teachers. The programming is robust, and I always leave with immediately implementable ideas for my own classroom as well as a real sense of connection to the larger CS teacher community. This year, the event is virtual, and it's really affordable. I think it's a must attend for any CS teacher, regardless of level of experience/tenure.
What is the biggest piece of advice you would give to potential CS educators?
The most important part about being a successful CS teacher is not content knowledge (although of COURSE it's important to master your content!) - it's a willingness to be vulnerable with your students. The core of Computer Science is constant and repeated failures that lead to success. Be willing to be wrong in front of your students. Be willing to model what it looks like to fail - to make mistakes, actively debug code, grow. Normalize saying "You know, I don't know the answer to that - let's figure it out together!" The tenacity we build in our students doesn't just help those who will go on to pursue a career in CS; it helps every kid become more tenacious in their own passions, interests, and pursuits.
TELL US MORE!
What is your proudest professional accomplishment?
Growing CS programs at two different levels - middle and high school. Both prior to and during my time as a CS teacher, I've spent about 10 years in values-based organizational recruiting in both paid and volunteer capacities. It's been really awesome to take that skill set and be able to apply it to increase enrollment in CS courses, with a specific focus on girls and underrepresented student groups. I'm really excited to be presenting about how to do this (with real, implementable strategies) at CSTA 2021.
What do you do to recharge after a long day (or week, month, year, etc.) of teaching?
This past year, I've been focused on rediscovering what it means to set boundaries in my professional life. I'm a little bit of a workaholic - I'm extremely passionate about the work I'm doing, and when you're passionate, it's easy to get lost in the work and find yourself on the brink of burnout. Part of that has been figuring out what I need to recharge - for me, it's been a lot of reading (I'm a big fan of thrillers), working out (I'm a regular at OrangeTheory), and spending unplugged time with my husband, Paul, and our dog, Milton. I'm also an avid sports fan, and love watching the Baltimore Orioles after a long day (even when they're terrible).