By Susan Riddell
On a recent field trip to ZirMed, a health care technology management company in Louisville, Lee County High School students were told that the unemployment rate for those in the computer science field is less than 1 percent.
That was enough to convince the visiting Advanced Placement (AP) computer science students they were right where they needed to be, according to teacher Joy Neace.
“Computer science is one of the fastest-growing fields in the job market and this program allows students to become familiar with the basics in the field,” Neace said of the Technology Education and Literacy in Schools (TEALS) program. “This will allow students to decide if they would like to work in this field, or if they want to study it in college.” The TEALS program is a partner initiative with Microsoft YouthSpark, said Joe Morgan, director of the Kentucky Department of Education’s Division of College and Career Readiness.
TEALS helps build a sustainable computer science program by integrating industry software engineers into the classroom in a co-teaching model, Morgan said. Using Lync conferencing technology, the software engineer leads the class from a Seattle office while the classroom teacher learns the process and curriculum, eventually taking over independently. Most of the schools in the program are urban ones in the Seattle area, but Lee County High was one of two schools to pilot the program nationally. After two years in the pilot program, the school is using it independently this school year.
“TEALS provides access to two computer programming courses designed to give students a jumpstart into a postsecondary computer science degree program,” Morgan said. “The first course is introductory (for sophomores), and the second course is an AP course.”
During the pilot process, Neace and another teacher at the school learned the curriculum. Neace, who joined the program during the 2013-14 school year, is giving lectures, planning lessons and grading assignments while receiving support from Microsoft engineers as needed. She will have full control of the courses in 2016-17.
“This program provides an excellent opportunity for our students to discover if computer science is a field that they would be interested in studying further when they go to college,” Neace said. “Many students do not understand what computer science is if they have not had hands-on experience with programming.”
While the learning has been focused on the classroom experience, the TEALS program also gave Neace the opportunity to take her AP students to Seattle for tours of Facebook, Google and Microsoft offices.
“My favorite aspect of the program is that students have the opportunity to talk with field specialists about what they do for their jobs. It also gives them the opportunity to visit different computer/tech companies to see the different types of jobs that people can have within the same company (such as programmers, engineers and project managers) so that even if they want to work with computers, but do not want to write code for their job, it is possible to find those positions,” Neace said.
Other high schools in Madison, Jessamine and Adair counties are piloting the program this school year along with three other Kentucky area technology centers.
“Typically, schools would offer only the introduction class the first year so a cohort of students could begin the program,” Morgan said. “The second year, schools would offer both the introduction and the AP courses to maintain ongoing flow of computer science students.” Student feedback has been positive, according to Neace, and word has spread to younger students about the classes. “Most of the students who were in the introduction class this year (who were not seniors) expressed interest in taking the AP class next school year,” Neace said earlier this summer.
She said several 8th- and 9th-grade students also have the introduction class next year.