Emily Wilson entered Lake Washington High School (LWHS) in September expecting to pick up a paintbrush and express herself through art. But a scheduling conflict in the system now has her inputing data, creating programs and learning about today’s growing high-tech world.
The 15-year-old sophomore is one of about 30 students enrolled in a computer science class at LWHS that is part of Technology Education and Literacy in Schools (TEALS), a program that has Microsoft Corp. employees teaching high schoolers how computers work.
Wilson said in today’s digital age, she sees the value in having such a class at the high school level.
“We’re all on computers or cell phones,” she said.
POINT OF ORIGIN
TEALS founder and ringleader Kevin Wang (right) agreed, saying young people these days are digital natives, familiar with technology. However, while they may be sending e-mails at all hours of the day, they don’t know how the messages get from point A to point B. TEALS teaches students this — among other things.
Wang said the program began when Issaquah High School contacted him because the school’s computer science program was in danger of disappearing. School district officials asked Wang, who taught computer science for three years at a high school in the San Francisco bay area, if he would teach for them.
The planning process for TEALS began more than two years ago and last year was the program’s pilot year. The program was in four schools throughout the Puget Sound area. Now in its second year, TEALS has tripled in size with more than 800 students in 13 partner schools from four school districts. In the Lake Washington School District (LWSD), TEALS has also partnered with Juanita and Eastlake high schools.
TEALS offers three classes: Introduction to Computer Science, Web Design and Advanced Placement Computer Science A. The first two classes are one term long, while the AP class is yearlong.
The classes are offered during first period because Wang said many Microsoft employees don’t have a nine-to-five work schedule and have the free time at that hour.
Wang said even though money and contracts are involved, donations and other funding has allowed schools to participate in the program at no cost to them.
LEARNING FOR ALL
Wilson is enrolled in the introductory class and while she never intended to sign up for anything computer related, she said her experience so far has her reconsidering. She added that having the option to take a computer science class in high school would be beneficial for students interested in the field as well as those who are not.
“I think it’s definitely good for the kids that are interested in it,” she said. “(Students not interested in computer science) would find it interesting so it would open up their perspective on things.”
Wilson said she has also enjoyed learning about what has been happening at Microsoft.
Wang — who doesn’t teach in the classrooms, but trains the TEALS instructors — said his team is made up of individuals who are at the top of their game and contacted by recruiters on a regular basis. He said with the level of expertise they offer, high schools can’t compete because not many computer and technology teachers have that kind of background.
While the TEALS instructors have the technical background, very few have the teaching experience beyond being graduate school teaching assistants, which is why the Microsoft employees team up with a faculty member to help them with administrative duties, grades and other logistics involved in running a classroom.
“You just don’t think about being a teacher,” TEALS instructor Rubaiyat Khan (left, with sophomore Austin Lashley) said about their lack of experience in this department.
Leanne Fike, the LWHS teacher who partnered with Khan and her TEALS partner Robert Goins, teaches various career technology education (CTE) classes including web design and business applications at the school. She said this year was the first year the school would offer computer programming class and when TEALS came on board, she was able to go with their curriculum.
Fike, who is in her 27th year of teaching, said she does not have much of a background in computers and said most of her time is just spent trying to keep up with the industry.
“And then Kevin jumped in and it was like, ‘Wow, this is perfect timing,'” she said, referring to her preparations for this year’s computer programming class.
Fike said she has been learning right alongside her students and is appreciative of Khan and Goins.
“I have been so impressed with these two,” she said.
Wilson agreed, adding she has witnessed the Microsoft duo adjusting their lessons to better fit the students’ needs.
“They’ve definitely improved over this time period,” she said.
THE NEXT GENERATION
As they spend more time in the classroom, the TEALS instructors have been very pleased with their experiences and thrilled to share their passion with the younger generation.
“We’re educating tomorrow’s workforce,” said Juanita TEALS instructor Corinne Pascale.
Pascale, her TEALS partner Brent Axthelm and their colleagues said they have been very warmly welcomed into their respective schools by students and staff alike.
One thing both Pascale and Khan have particularly enjoyed about their involvement in TEALS has been working with the female students since computer science is still a male-dominated industry.
“There weren’t many female role models,” Pascale said about her experiences in college, adding that most of her professors were male.
Wang said at the high school level, the gender gap isn’t as big, but this could be because they originally signed up for other classes before being put into the computer classes. However, he said the AP classes do tend to have a smaller number of girls.
All of the TEALS instructors said they are impressed by their students, how easily some can grasp a concept and how willing those students are to help their classmates.
Khan said this helps both students because one receives help and the other gains a more solid understanding of the concepts.
Wilson, who struggles in some areas but excels in others, admits that being able to help her classmates is her favorite part of the class. She also said she likes that the TEALS instructors are also accessible for help.
“I’ve definitely improved (but the instructors are) always there to help,” she said.