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Charged recently with creating a “Mario-like” animated figure that could walk, run and jump across a computer screen, students in a new computer science class at Quincy High School put their heads down and got right to work. Angel Bermudez was one of the first students to program his cartoon-like character to walk and turn across the screen. It took the senior only about 20 minutes. He was moving on to making his character jump.

Bermudez, who plans to attend Eastern Washington University next year, is considering a career in computer science or engineering. He’s taken just about every computer class at QHS, but this one is different, he said. The class is taught by Microsoft professionals via Skype. Students are using headsets and webcams in the online class. And it’s also more challenging for the computer savvy Bermudez.
“This is getting us involved in computers,” he said. “It’s building a base foundation in how computers work.”

Earlier this year, Microsoft announced it would invest $75 million over the next three years to increase access to computer science education for all youth, especially those from under-represented backgrounds. As part of its investment, Microsoft expanded its Technology Education and Literacy in Schools program, or TEALS, to 11 new schools in Washington this fall. Among those schools is QHS; Microsoft donated $6,500 to get the program started there. This year, there are 57 schools in the state using the TEALS program.

Computer science is offered at less than 10 percent of high schools in the United States; however, there will be some 1.5 million computer science-related job openings by 2018, Microsoft reported. To combat these figures, the tech company wants to expand TEALS, which started in 2009, so it reaches 30,000 students in nearly 700 schools across 33 states, according to information from Microsoft. The goal of TEALS is to not only reach out to these students and help them build a foundation in computer science but to also help high schools build sustainable computer science programs. So TEALS provides schools with both the curricula and the volunteer teachers. Trained computer science professionals team-teach with classroom teachers. The goal is for classroom teachers to eventually teach the course themselves.

At QHS, classroom teacher Ross Kondo is joined by two computer science professionals as well as four teaching assistants. The computer science professionals teach the class via Skype while Kondo handles questions and instruction in the classroom. Students are able to reach out via Skype and their webcams to the teaching assistants for any immediate help. The online course was a bit of an adjustment for the students in the first two to three weeks, Kondo said. However, QHS students have an opportunity through TEALS to gain experience now with online courses, which are becoming more prevalent, Kondo said.

The class is also a bit of a lesson in the world. Of the Microsoft professionals who work with the QHS students, one is originally from India, one from South America and another is from China, Kondo said. And the Quincy teacher is learning alongside his students. “I’m learning the coding as (Microsoft employees) are learning the teaching,” said Kondo, who has been working on the TEALS program curriculum with his Microsoft partners since this summer.

One of the computer science professionals teaching TEALS is Silvia Doomra, a program manager for Microsoft who lives in the Seattle area. Last week, Doomra traveled to Quincy to visit her students and teach from the classroom. TEALS is a true team approach to teaching, Doomra said. Students would have lost interest if they didn’t have someone available to them in the classroom, and many of the Microsoft volunteers are new to teaching, she said. “Without the school partnership, it won’t work,” Doomra said. Doomra has arranged a November field trip for the students, who will travel to Microsoft in Seattle. There students will not only talk with programmers about their jobs but also about their backgrounds and education.The field trip also will include a session with executives, many of whom come from “humble beginnings,” Doomra said.
So far, the Quincy students are doing well, Doomra said. Within a couple of weeks, she has seen much innovation from her students.
“I think they are super bright, I must say,” she said.

For Kondo, he wants to see his students not only gain a strong foundation in computer science through TEALS but to also be opened up to some of the experiences available to students living in larger cities.He also sees TEALS as a wonderful opportunity for his students to network with professionals in computer programming. And Doomra, who is originally from India, hopes the class gives students an awareness of the opportunities around them. “There are opportunities around,” she said. “Just look for them.” And, who knows, one of the Quincy students may just create the next Microsoft, Doomra said. “Who knows what tomorrow holds,” she said.

— By Jill FitzSimmons, This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
Quincy Valley Post Register

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