TEALS: Helping students discover computer science

(repost from the Microsoft Corporate Citizenship blog)

By Gretchen Deo, Citizenship & Public Affairs, Microsoft

Recently I sat with a group of 22 kids from Rainier Beach High School & South Shore Middle School who were on Microsoft’s campus in Redmond for the day. The kids were here as part of their involvement in Microsoft’s TEALS (Technology Education And Literacy in Schools) program which places Microsoft engineers in a team teaching role with into high-need K-12 classes to teach computer science with an existing in-service teacher.

The kids are enrolled in an ‘Introduction to Computer Science’ class, which teaches students the basic ideas behind computational thinking using a programming application called TouchDevelop on Windows Phone.          

“We have a software program that the students can use in their hands,” said Michael Braun, a computer science teacher at Rainier Beach who partners with Microsoft employees to teach the class. “They’re gravitating towards that in their daily lives, so it’s a way to merge the two ideas – social media and actual academic curriculum into one. The kids love it.”

Only 27 percent of American high schools offer any type of computer science classes, so the absence of a formalized class at Rainier Beach prior to TEALS is not uncommon. Peli de Halleux is a Software Developer with Microsoft Research and teaches 29 kids at Rainier Beach every morning together with Chris Mitchell, another Software Developer with Microsoft Exchange. “A lot of those kids don’t have computers at home, so it’s hard to give them homework,” said de Halleux. “[We said], let’s be the first class that teaches exclusively on a mobile device.” Braun added, “Without having this kind of handheld technology, they would not have this opportunity to be doing computer science homework. By giving them the hardware and software, we’re basically delivering classroom technology to their home.”

Miguel Higgins, a sophomore at Rainier Beach High School is taking the TouchDevelop class. “I thought it’d be interesting because the school doesn’t really have many technology courses, so I thought TouchDevelop might be good. I did C++ before I got to the school, so I already had an interest in programming; it’s just a cool introduction.” TouchDevelop is also being used as a “bridge class” between middle and high School. Price Jimerson is an 8th grader at South Shore and attends class at Rainier Beach High School for one hour each morning. She said, “It’s not different [from other classes] because we still do Math or Algebra, but it is different because we use… scripts and word streams.”

On this particular day, the kids were at Microsoft to see what’s possible when applying lessons from the classroom to careers and our everyday environment. They heard from employees about college technology tracks, internships at Microsoft, and career ideas. David Hardy Jr., a parent who was chaperoning the day, said “I like that my daughter is in the program. My daughter comes home and she’s really excited and engaged. It’s really giving her a skill [programming] that will forever be with her.” I asked a number of the kids if they were interested in exploring computer science beyond high school and received enthusiastic responses across the board.

TEALS is expanding from 13 partner schools in the Puget Sound this year to over 30 schools nationwide with a reach of over 1800 students, and it’s a good thing – as 8th grader Deja Sopher-Frazier said, “I think other people should have the opportunity to do the same thing as us.”

If you’re interested in more information on the TEALs program contact Kevin Wang at Microsoft.

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