Why is T.E.A.L.S. Awesome for High School Computer Science?

I am a T.E.A.L.S. volunteer Computer Science instructor teaching in a local high school.  This is my first year and I was recently asked how it has been going.  I said “Awesome!” and then I was asked why.  It has been three quarters of a year and is a good time for reflection.

Why is TEALS awesome?

TWITTER answer – “TEALS makes it easy to share what I have learned, with great kids, in a subject I love, for an industry that desperately needs talent”

BLOG answer:

CS is a great career for students and the US needs them

We don’t train enough programmers. 80,000 programmer positions go unfilled by U.S. workers every year. Yet, only 10% of the high schools have computer science classes. The number of CS AP tests taken each year has barely grown, while the number of US History and Calculus AP’s has tripled since 1996.

It is an incredibly lucrative career – CS is the highest paid and highest ROI field to go in. A UVA CS degree had the highest ROI in the whole country (more than any Stanford or Harvard degree).

Girls are NOT becoming programmers – The number of female CS majors in the last decade has been cut in half from 20% to 10%. As a country, allowing 40% of our human resources to not be in a high need, lucrative career is just foolish.

T.E.A.L.S. is a great idea and makes it easy to get involved.

T.E.A.L.S. makes it easy for volunteers.  The T.E.A.L.S. concept of teaming experienced teachers with industry computer science veterans has allowed me to enter the classroom and make an immediate positive impact without having to worry about having “experienced teacher specific” skills such as classroom management or assessment. They gave me teacher training, coordinated my involvement with the school and provided a network of support from the other T.E.A.L.S. teachers and volunteers via the online social networking site – Piazza.

CS teachers get free help –  A CS student spends most of their class time writing computer programs.  It is very difficult for one teacher to get around to all of the students who need help.  Both the teachers and the students benefit from the extra pair of hands and volunteers can make a positive impact from day one.

The value add is high.  As a CS industry veteran, I know how software is developed (e.g., collaboratively with lots of white boards), what good code looks like (e.g. lots of comments, generic for re-use etc…), and can share real stories that bring computer science alive.  For example, to emphasize the importance of writing clear code with lots of comments, I related a story about when I received a 2 a.m. emergency call to fix a program that was written entirely using a dog as a metaphor (e.g. if hind leg broken go to front leg). The code had no explanatory comments and the programmer no longer worked for the company.  It took me four times longer to fix than if it had been coded clearly.

The kids, the kids, the kids.

Impact by teaching – One of the most formative times in anyone’s life is in high school.  I get to be a part of it.  I love seeing the “oh, now I get it” light go on.  There is nothing better than teaching recursion or how arrays work, seeing the light bulb go on, and then hear students as they explain it to the person sitting next to them. I just walk away smiling.  Learning truly is the gift that keeps on giving.  I get to teach these kids how to think and solve hard problems.

Impact by sharing experiences – I have the unique opportunity to engage with these kids. I get to listen to their dreams and insecurities and share my experiences and perspective with them.  Whether it is talking about my experience of taking an internet startup public or a female colleague sharing her stories about writing software for the International Space Station (the kids were wide-eyed and enraptured when she was talking), the students can visualize themselves doing the same thing in a CS career (or more).

Impact by just being interested in them – The most powerful teaching tool is to see students as individuals. It not only reinforces classroom learning, but more importantly, affirms the hopes and dreams they have for themselves.  I just wrote a recommendation letter for a female student (who plays classical guitar at the Kennedy Center) to go to STEM CS camp at VA Tech this summer.  Another student likes to design computer 3D animated figures.  This week I am going to print some of his creations on my 3D printer.  One senior girl was worried about getting into Virginia Tech, her first school of choice. She is good at CS and likes it.  I strongly encouraged her to think about CS, knowing that her chances of being accepted would triple.  She just got accepted to Virginia Tech as a CS major.

I get to make a difference doing what I love

I love programming

The problem with being a good programmer is you get promoted out of your job into management.  I have not programmed anything for 15 years.  I forgot how much I love it.  I love how the computer gives me freedom to create.  I have horrible fine motor and 3D skills,  and can barely use a table saw, but I can make a computer do almost anything.

I want to make a difference

I achieved everything I wanted to in business.  I co-founded a company and helped grow it to 250 employees and a public listing on NASDAQ.  Yet, at the end of that experience, I was left wondering how much I had made the world a better place.  I didn’t think about those things when I was 30, but I definitely think about them now.

Teaching makes a difference.

As a businessman, I have always thought that the best investment I could make is investing in the development of my own mind.  Now that I am older, what better investment with my time now, than in the development of other minds?  I have been in Teddy Roosevelt’s arena and have the knowledge and wisdom gained through “victory and defeat.” Being able to share what I know and have experienced is one of the most rewarding things I have ever done.

I never anticipated that I would like teaching as much as I do.  After a month of teaching, I was driving my wife crazy.  I would come home and talk about the class, the kids, and the programming for hours.  I would talk to her about new ways I was thinking to explain some of the concepts, or how to make the students improve their solutions to the programming labs.  I am now actually completing a career switcher course so that I can teach full-time computer science, math and business in the Loudoun County Public School Systems.

And that’s why the Teals program is awesome.



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