CS Teacher Series: Computer Science in East Boston By Scott Foster

| Scott Foster


National Computer Science Education Week is this week and we will be participating in a number of events in the area. We are also proud to feature local computer science teachers as a guest bloggers right here on the Microsoft New England blog. Each of these teachers inspired with their creative and thoughtful commitment to education. ~Aimee Sprung, Civic Engagement Manager – Microsoft New England.

Computer Science at East Boston High was born in a math class—not an AP or honors class, but rather a “last-chance senior” math class; for students facing the prospect of not graduating unless they could get a math credit—any math credit. Many students who find themselves in this situation are in it due to poor attendance, lack of interest in certain subjects or school in general, or some constellation of challenges that makes success at school difficult.

Most of my students had failed a couple years of math along the way to their senior year—but there was also an exceptional diversity of ability and (most especially) interest. So with abilities all over the map (the student who had failed every class in ninth grade but had gotten As in every math class since; the student who had failed every math class, but only math classes; students who struggled with school in general; and various other combinations of strengths and weaknesses), and interest levels ranging from high to non-existent, I made the decision to introduce programming to these students.

The effect on interest was immediate and electric—this was something truly new for the students and it did not feel abstract or pointless. Feedback was immediate, the process was frustrating, but success was extremely rewarding. The syntax of Python made it easy to get started, and even the least motivated students were won over when they first double-clicked a desktop icon launching a program they had written! Programming is also an excellent tool for instructional differentiation—programming assignments can be adjusted to measure or develop particular abilities of the programmer. Students were able to design and code simple encryption programs, games, quizzes, Punnet square generators, mazes, etc. (One of my students encrypted her final paper— I had to crack the code before grading it! She graduated and has joined the Navy, where she works… in encryption.)

The class was a success, word spread, and students began to request the class—even students whose graduation was not at risk. Word also spread to the administration.

Our department head was not angry that a math class had been hijacked by computer science curriculum (CSC), rather he (a CSC teacher himself) felt that we should try to grow a proper computer science program and that has been our project for the last three or four years.

Presently computer science is very much on the radar at Eastie High. Most students know we offer it and interest is growing—from its beginnings described above, passed the 10 AP CSC students in our initial AP class, to today with 5 sections of intro to CSC and a healthy AP program. Additionally, at the end of this year we will have over 250 students in the building with some experience in computer programming which may allow us to offer other courses such as game and app design.

Scott Foster is a Computer Science teacher at East Boston High School.

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