Blog Post

Community Spotlight: Josh Paley

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Each month, we highlight a member of the CS for All Teachers community.

Josh Paley

Josh Paley


Name: Josh Paley

Occupation: Teacher, computer science and mathematics

Workplace: Henry M. Gunn High School (Palo Alto, CA)

Years in education: 25+

Years teaching computer science: 20+



What interests you about CS?

I like the mathematical beauty of CS. That it is incredibly useful is a bonus.

How did you start teaching CS? Do you have a background in CS?

I was a grad student and was hired to teach two days before the semester started. I had a degree in math and CS and a couple years of industry experience at the time.

How have your CS students inspired you? 

Some of them have gone on to found companies based on tech. Others have gone on to successful careers, becoming the first in their families to get out of their economic strata.

How do you recruit students into your CS classes?

There is no single sound bite answer for this. Some of it is personally talking to students. Working with the guidance office has helped immensely. Word of mouth matters a lot. Reputation with parents is a plus. T-shirts have helped (seriously). The recognized value of computing in society moves people to try CS.

There is still a long way to go, but since 2002-2003, we've gone from around 50-60 students per year taking CS to a bit over 350 students, and we have improved and expanded our CS course offerings.



How do you get other teachers, administrators, and community members excited about CS?

People seem to like my presentations. I've done some at Special Interest Group on Computer Science Education (SIGCSE) conferences, Computer Science Teachers Association (CSTA)  (national and local) conferences, and at my school. We now have five CS teachers at my school; I was the only one for nine years. Once others discovered it was fun, that helped more than my telling them it was fun. Administrators seem to like that we teach CS, but I don't think that most understand the value-add and why a well-educated adult needs to know some CS. I've been pushing for CS as a graduation requirement, as well as for a CS department at the school, and administrators seem more interested in avoiding lawsuits and maintaining the status quo than introducing something new - even if the something new is plainly of enormous import. Administrators' attitudes seem to be, "If the state doesn't mandate it, why should we?" Innovation is much harder than it should be.

What excites you most about the current state of CS education in the US?

While I am excited about the potential, I'm actually worried about the state of CS education. Are kids going to come out of high school with strength in math and English? If not, then will CS education do much to change their opportunities? Will it help young people have access to top institutions of higher education? Will it help them have access to the financial levers that can help translate their ideas into products? And, then there is the matter of the quality and rigor of what is learned. What does CS for All (as in the national initiative) even mean? Will we get content at the high school level that will translate well to all universities, or will it be superficial for the most part? There will be lots of success stories because there are so many people who are going to be learning something about CS. I think the jury is out on how much impact the current CS education movement will have and who will benefit from it.

What do you enjoy most about participating in CS for All Teachers?

It's nice to know that I'm not alone, and that there are other enthusiastic people who are trying to spread the word.

Besides the CS for All Teachers community of practice, what is your favorite CS tool or resource?

I have a fear and loathing of professional development in general. It seems like most of it is rehashing content that was in classes I took to earn credentials. It would be a lot better if it gave teachers a chance to explore their own disciplines on their terms. My favorite resource, therefore, is SIGCSE. It gives me a chance to network, learn things I otherwise would not explore, and see how things are changing within the discipline at the university level. It is important for me to have some vision for what comes next in order to best serve my students.

What is the biggest piece of advice you would give to potential CS educators?

Go to SIGCSE. Go to CSTA meetings. Check out groups on social media (there are AP CS A, AP CS P, CS Researchers, etc. groups on Facebook). Don't be afraid to ask questions. Also, if you don't understand a topic, it's interesting and amazing how often students themselves come to the rescue. Humility is a good thing because every student knows something about computing that the teacher doesn't.



What is your proudest professional accomplishment?

I was once told by a professor at a state university that my former students were by far the strongest cohort of CS students at her university. She had done internal research on the matter and was curious as to why even the weakest among the group were so successful. I received a similar message from a venture capital firm. In this business, you take recognition when you can get it.

Write a poem or haiku describing what teaching CS is like.

Mona Lisa's fine

I prefer SICP's beauty

I hear lambda's call

What do you do to recharge after a long day (or week, month, year, etc.) of teaching?​

Maybe you can help me out with this. I haven't figured out how to recharge properly in all these years . . .