Woodland High School teams up with Microsoft, TEALS, and volunteer technology professionals to offer Intro to Computer Science

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Woodland High School teamed up with Microsoft Philanthropies’ partner, Technology Education and Literacy in Schools (TEALS) to offer courses in Computer Science to help prepare students to enter a workforce where having technology skills will provide a leg-up to landing life-long careers.

Woodland's Director of Information Technology, Steve Rippl (left), and class teacher Michael Lindsay (right) teleconference with their teaching team to prepare for the school's new Introduction to Computer Science class.
Woodland's Director of Information Technology, Steve Rippl (left), and class teacher Michael Lindsay (right) teleconference with their teaching team to prepare for the school's new Introduction to Computer Science class. 

Principal John Shoup’s background in computer programming motivated him to prioritize offering classes in coding to Woodland’s students. “Technology is a vital element in our students’ futures – every field and industry has some element of technology driving it,” he explained. “Along those lines, I knew it was imperative for our school to offer computer science and programming at the high school level.”

Shoup contacted Technology Education and Literacy in Schools (TEALS), a nonprofit organization supported by Microsoft Philanthropies, to receive support in order to offer Introduction to Computer Science courses this year. Microsoft sponsors TEALS in order to enable schools without the budget for Computer Science to start offering classes.

After lining up the necessary curriculum and support, Shoup reached out to Michael Lindsay, a mathematics teacher at the school, to see if he had interest in teaching computer science. Even though Lindsay had little experience with computer programming himself, he stepped up when Shoup approached him about teaching the new Introduction to Computer Science course. “Mathematics and computer programming share a key, underlying thread – problem-solving,” explained Lindsay. “However, coding provides an excellent way for students to learn and hone their creative problem-solving skills because there are so many ways to solve a programming problem unlike courses like mathematics; there’s no single black-and-white solution in coding.”

Shoup also reached out to Woodland Public Schools’ Director of Information Technology, Steve Rippl, to see if he would participate in teaching the course. “I’m excited to introduce kids to how often computer science is used in a variety of different organizations,” said Rippl. “Seeing professionals from industries other than those strictly in the field of technology helps students discover widespread opportunities for workers with technology backgrounds in a variety of interests.”

In order to provide additional technical background for the course, the TEALS program worked with Woodland High School to find professionals from the technology industry to volunteer to team-teach the year-long class. Jim Darden, a Software Developer for Intuit, the makers of financial software like QuickBook, Mint, and Quicken, has children attending Woodland schools, and heard about the opportunity to help teach the course when Shoup sent an email to parents asking for volunteers. “I’m a very extroverted person, so having the chance to share what I know is incredibly motivating,” explained Darden. “I love volunteering – the reward for doing it is the act of doing it itself.”

Darden has first-hand experience of the need for a skilled workforce who understands computer science. “Computers are present in everything we do, so it’s important to not just know how to use them, but also understand why and how computers do what they do,” he explained. “Students will never be out of work if they understand how to code – the need in the workforce is that great.”

DeLani Stepper, junior, plans to become a computer scientist and signed up for the course to learn how to code.
DeLani Stepper, junior, plans to become a computer scientist and signed up for the course to learn how to code. 

Student response has been substantial with more than twice as many students enrolling in classes as TEALS typically expects. During each class, students use a programming language called SNAP, a more robust version of widely-used JavaScript, to learn new coding techniques and solve problems. The teachers, Lindsay, Rippl, and Darden, team-teach the classes by taking turns teaching lessons based on their own technical backgrounds. An additional volunteer instructor teaches remotely by seeing each student through their Chromebook's webcam and accessing students’ desktop remotely to help diagnose bugs and review work. "Having real-world professionals teach the students is incredibly valuable,” said Lindsay. “The volunteers are so dedicated - it's absolutely outstanding.”

Lindsay’s teaching partners agree with the effectiveness of the innovative teaching technique. “Team teaching has been great,” said Darden. “The approach models what we do in the professional workplace with my teachers being my colleagues – it’s just like working with colleagues in the professional world.”

London Lubecky, sophomore, loves using computers for creative problem-solving. She plans to become a video game developer.
London Lubecky, sophomore, loves using computers for creative problem-solving. She plans to become a video game developer. 

Students also enjoy the variety of lessons provided by team-teaching. “The team-teaching style works really well – the teachers all communicate with each other to give us the best possible lesson,” said DeLani Stepper, a junior who plans to become a computer scientist. “I’ve always been a technology freak, and I really like being able to get the computer to do whatever I want it to.”

Other students also took Computer Science with plans to seek careers in the technology industry. “I want to be a game developer, so I knew I needed to learn how to code,” said London Lubecky, a sophomore. “I’ve always been interested in coding, and I enjoy the challenge of learning the different types of code and how to make them work together to solve the problem I’m working on.”

Sean Bailey, junior, took the course because he knows the importance of technology to achieve his dream of becoming an astronaut.
Sean Bailey, junior, took the course because he knows the importance of technology to achieve his dream of becoming an astronaut. 

Some students took the course to learn more about computers to aid with their futures. “I love technology and I have taken other courses on coding; I find it fun to piece together bits of code to make something bigger,” said Sean Bailey, a junior with aspirations to become an astronaut. “A program that may appear small and simple on the outside can be incredibly complicated on the inside, and this course teaches us the fundamentals to understand how it all works together.”

Even though the school year has just started, Darden sees great results from the students, “They’re already steps ahead and they’re really engaged – they’re here because they want to be here,” he said. “The teaching team is already discussing the possibilities of offering advanced computer science next year.” Shoup and Lindsay say they are hoping to offer Advanced Placement (AP) Computer Science courses at Woodland High School beginning in 2018 and give students the opportunity to receive college credit for the course.

For community members interested in volunteering, contact Woodland High School Principal John Shoup via email at shoupj@woodlandschools.org or call the high school office at (360) 841-2800. For more information about the Technology Education and Literacy in Schools nonprofit organization, visit their website at www.tealsk12.org.

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