Last week, more than 1,600 Washington state high school students and teachers traveled to Microsoft to explore the awesome educational and career opportunities offered by computer science.
Students who attended are part of TEALS (Technology Education and Literacy in Schools), a volunteer movement supported by Microsoft YouthSpark to bring computer science (CS) education to every high school. The program partners technology industry professionals with classroom teachers to “team teach” computer science. Volunteers join classes in-person or, for rural locations, through Microsoft Lync. The ultimate goal is handing the curriculum to the classroom teacher after two years.
Students attending the field trip met employees of small start-ups all the way up to the biggest technology companies in the world. Panel speakers included game developers from Xbox, PopCap and Team Meat, along with alumni of Y Combinator, one of the most sought-after technology company incubators in the world.
The half-science fair, half-technology fair featured over 50 booths staffed by software engineers from Microsoft, Expedia, Google, Hulu and other companies, who told students how they got into their careers, what they do, and the products they work on. Every booth was visited by hundreds of students, and most engineers were perfectly happy to lose their voices in the process. Local college computer science programs, such as the University of Washington and Seattle Pacific University, were joined by alumni from UC Berkeley, Michigan, Texas, and Harvard, who spoke to students about pursuing computer science after high school.
AP CS students from Lind-Ritzville High School in eastern Washington, a new TEALS partner this year, traveled more than four hours to attend the Computer Science Fair in Redmond, along with their terrific classroom teacher Thomas Pulliam.
“I’ve been interested in programming since middle school,” said Hannah Deckard, a Lind-Ritzville sophomore, who is taught by a team of engineers remotely from Seattle. “I tried to teach myself online but that didn’t work very well. When I saw this class offered, I jumped at the chance.”
Hannah now thinks about how computer science might apply to potential careers in horticulture or art. Her classmate, Mike Oestreich, has also been interested in computers his entire life. What excites him about TEALS is that it is the first class in which he is able to learn computer science directly from software engineers over 200 miles away.
“It’s a great change of pace from all the other classes we have,” he says. “It’s nice having someone who actually works at Microsoft. I’ve always wanted to work here.” A volunteer who works at Tableau Software, Jeff Booth, also volunteers via Lync in the Lind-Ritzville AP CS class.
Tuesday’s TEALS field trip was the third this year, following a successful event for 500 students in San Francisco and over 1,000 in New York City.
But TEALS isn’t just a one-day event. It goes on all year, with more than 450 volunteers from across the industry teaching computer science in more than 130 schools in 18 states and the District of Columbia. Washington state has 46 TEALS schools, including every public high school in Auburn, Bellevue and Renton.
There is a huge demand for computer science classes. When they’re offered, students such as Hannah and Mike often jump at the chance. And if they pursue it through college, it can lead to some of the most intellectually challenging, rewarding and high-paying jobs. This is especially important for students from lower-income backgrounds. Computer science can give them a ticket to the middle class and beyond.
You can help. The only way to jumpstart computer science programs in high schools is with more volunteers. No matter where you work, if you have a CS background and you’re willing to wake up a little earlier than you’re used to, students around the country can use your help. Volunteering for TEALS is a challenging but incredibly rewarding experience. More important, it’s a meaningful investment on behalf of future computer scientists. Please learn more by visiting TEALSK12.org/volunteers.