Teaching Computer Science With TEALS

| Aimee Sprung

Teaching Computer Science With TEALSAs Computer Science (CS) Education Week approaches, we are thrilled to see how far we have come in Massachusetts since last year’s CS Ed Week.  MassCAN is driving amazing professional development for teachers, organizations like Coder Dojo and CSSparks are expanding to offer more coding opportunities to students outside of school and programs like TEALS (Technology Education And Literacy in Schools) are growing to help schools offer more computer science classes in MA. TEALS has been up and running in Seattle and New York City at many schools but we are just beginning to work with schools in Massachusetts with TEALS volunteers in 7 school systems this year.

Since only 1 out of 10 schools in the U.S. offer programming classes, our high schools fail to offer CS because there are not enough qualified CS teachers to meet demand.  To help schools address this gap in teachers prepared to teach CS, Microsoft is proud to support TEALS, a grassroots program that recruits, trains, mentors, and places high tech professionals from across the country who are passionate about computer science education into high school classes as volunteer teachers in a team teaching model where the school district is unable to meet their students’ CS needs on its own.

TEALS works with committed partner schools and classroom teachers to eventually hand off the CS courses to the classroom teachers. The school will then be able to maintain and grow a sustainable CS program on their own.

Last week, we sat down with a local TEALS teacher to hear how the program is impacting his class.  Josh Miranda is a physics and computer science teacher at Revere High School. Through the TEALS program, 3 software engineers are working with him to teach AP Computer Science.

Interviewer: Tell me about your background at Revere.

Josh: Josh Miranda. I’m a physics and computer science teacher at Revere High School. This is my 2nd year teaching AP computer science, and it’s an interesting process with kids who have never really taken computer science before. It’s a fun class though!

Interviewer: Why is CS important for high school students?

Josh: In our school, a lot of our kids don’t even know about computer science. So, getting them into a class and having them learn a little bit about programming, a little bit about computer science in general, [will] hopefully [get] them interested in pursuing it as a career – obviously, with all of the jobs available it would be a good thing for someone to go into. But for me, besides that, [it gives] them problem solving skills that they don’t really get in other subjects. Having them work through things that are open ended and actually require them to think is something – that’s super important.

Interviewer: How do specific concepts from CS translate into general skills?

Josh: In terms of problem-solving skills, really any kind of algorithm they have to come up with – when they’re trying to break down something really simple mathematically that they are used to doing and figuring out how to get the computer to do it, I think, that makes them think through problem solving more than they’re used to, so it should help them solve more complicated problems in the future, whether they go into computer science or anything else really.

Interviewer: What’s hard about CS for students or for you as a teacher?

Josh: For the students, CS is difficult because it’s both learning a new language and problem solving. Some of them get stuck on just the syntax and they don’t think through the problems. Some of them will do the opposite and focus on the problem solving and never get the syntax right. So it’s really that combination of two areas that are difficult and getting them to put it together in one thing.

As a teacher, it’s difficult to have them do that- to work with both sets of students and figure out how to link those two things together when they’re struggling to do that themselves.

Interviewer: What’s your experience been like in the first 2 years?

Josh: I didn’t realize how difficult it would be the first year, with getting them to understand the concepts and them being able to apply them in problem solving, so that was an interesting realization in the first year. This year, I’m a little more prepared, and with the TEALS help it’s made a huge difference with getting them prepared for that.

And also, now that students know what CS is – they’ve heard about the class – I have students who are more interested in CS and actually know what they are getting into. So that’s helpful, a lot.

Interviewer: How has TEALS impacted your class and your teaching?

Josh: The TEALS program is a really good opportunity to get professionals in to talk to students and also teach students, and it helps me with topics I’m not really familiar with. So, bringing in real-world examples from [the students], and teaching in a way that I wouldn’t even think about teaching it for some of the concepts. Besides that, when students are working on labs and programs, having extra people in to help the students and work with them and work through their problems – it’s really beneficial for the students to have that 1:1 time with multiple people – instead of me running around trying to get to 15-20 students.

Interviewer: How is the program going so far this year?

Josh: It’s almost exactly 2 months since we started early. It’s great. The kids really like it. The kids like having different people they can work with and talk to. For me, having that many people in the classroom – I view it as a mentoring thing where they’re going around working with the students once we start working on the labs. It’s that much better because instead of me trying to get to students and not being able to fully answer their questions and work with them 1:1, the students are really benefitting from having that time.

Interviewer: Suppose you’re talking to a group of students. What would you tell them about who should take CS?

Josh: In my opinion, all students should sign up for CS. Especially kids who enjoy problem solving OR math (not necessarily both of them). I think any student who likes solving problems, solving puzzles, and has never really given it a shot. More students are capable of doing it than they realize, or even we realize when we talk to students.

TEALS is part of Microsoft YouthSpark, our commitment to empower 300 million young people with opportunities for education, employment and entrepreneurship.To learn more about Microsoft’s commitment to youth and education, visit our YouthSpark Hub or follow us on twitter at @msftcitizenship.

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Aimee Sprung

To keep up with Aimee you need to be up early. Like 5 AM early. Then you have to squeeze in Crossfit, grow STEM education programs, collaborate with community leaders and still keep up with her family - 2 boys require high energy. Or you can hit the snooze and sleep soundly knowing Aimee has that all covered.