Microsoft TEALS

In late July 2017, I took a seat in the library of a rural Wisconsin school I was surrounded by about twenty or so volunteers and teachers who would be teaching computer science with me during the next school year. My goal was twofold: I wanted to help my school district make computer science more accessible to any student who might not be ready to jump into AP Computer Science, or coding with Java. My second goal was as a woman in computer science, I wanted to be a role model and show other girls “Hey, you can do this!” One gripe I have about my profession is that it has long had a stereotype of being done by guys in hoodies in garages and basements everywhere. One of the first steps in breaking down barriers to entering a field is to have mentors who look like you. If girls can see more women in any STEM field, the first barrier of not looking like anyone else who’s interested in what you’re interested in is broken down.

I teach Intro to Computer Science. My students learned a programming language called SNAP in their first semester. It’s a block based coding language, where you drag and drop blocks together into logical sequences to carry out actions like speaking, drawing, moving, or changing a character’s costume. SNAP was event-based, and all of their actions corresponded to a particular “sprite”, or drawing on the screen. It was fun to see what they would come up with. Students had the opportunity to skin their sprites with photos of their own choosing. With that said, I know what you’re thinking. Yes, I did have to tell some students to make it PG-rated. For the most part though, their works were creative and fun to watch as they learned the concepts of programming.

We’re now in the second semester. I’m teaching Python 3 to a class with two more students. It takes me back to when I started programming, and I’m delighted to be a resource for these students as they learn to code. I’ve talked with many of them about all the places you see a need for coding (hint: it’s not just in IT!) or IT skills. Electrical engineers code for the devices they create, marketers have to at least be able to navigate HTML and javascript code snippets they use for analytics, bloggers have to know how the fundamentals of setting up a website, and accountants have to know where financial documents should be saved, which currently, means in the cloud. If a company isn’t there yet, they likely will be soon. Of course, there’s the traditional view of coders too: there’s never enough software developers to go around, which is the whole aim of this program.

TEALS was started by a Microsoft software engineer in 2009. It stands for “Technology Education and Literacy in Schools”. I couldn’t believe the numbers when they shared them with us in training last summer: nine out of ten high schools has no form of computer science training. By 2020, there will be 1.4 million open jobs in computer science related fields. I’m glad this program is around, and that I have a supportive employer who lets me volunteer for my school three days a week. It’s been exciting to see our class grow, starting with twelve students on the first day of school to the nineteen we have now. Even more exciting to see, is that there were no girls on the first day of school, and now, 20% of the class is female. Our teacher said it’s the most women he’s seen interested in learning about computer science in the seventeen years he’s been with the school. I hope interest continues to grow!

If you’re interested in volunteering, or if you want the TEALS program to come to your community, see the TEALS site for more details. It’s not hard, and I think that anyone who has a little determination can do it. The curriculum is already pre-written, you just follow along. I find it’s easiest to do the lesson the night before and have a saved copy of the warm up exercises and labs the students that I review right before class. To teach, I think yes, you should be an experienced programmer, but it doesn’t mean you have to be a senior programmer with ten years experience to do it. You can easily teach if you’re fresh out of college. People in technology fields in general can do it too. I think the curriculum would be easy enough to explain for someone like a QA analyst or business analyst. Plus, if you’re not a software engineer, you can show the kids that there’s a variety of jobs in technology by talking about yours too.

Yes, I’m telling you, readers, to get out there and teach. High school kids are fun to work with and it’s rewarding to see them learn. I hope you can help too! 

TEALS isn’t the only program out there. Some other organizations to help kids learn to code include:

 

 

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