From Math to Computer Science and Software Engineering

Timothy Phelps is a PLTW teacher, math teacher, and mathematics department chair at Lakeland High School. He is a PLTW Computer Science and Software Engineering (CSE) Master Teacher.

Project Lead The Way (PLTW) has greatly changed my educational experience.

I started out as a math teacher in 2006. I was first introduced to PLTW in 2010 when it was suggested that I should teach Principles of Engineering (POE). The next year I added Digital Electronics (DE), and the following year I heard about the pilot being offered in Computer Science and Software Engineering (CSE). A few years previous, my principal asked me to add a computer science (CS) course, since we were one of the only schools in our county that didn’t offer a class in computer science. So I added a course in Visual Studio, but I knew that the quality of course needed some help. That is when I decided to pursue the pilot for CSE.

My Core Training for CSE was unlike the other Core Trainings that I have completed. We met at San Jose State University with other prospective CSE teachers from across the country. We went through the bulk of the course over a week, and we also had to complete activities, projects, and problems before going to California and after we were done. I had the ability to work with some great computer science minds, from teachers who have taught CS for years to novice teachers, like me, who took a CS course in college. It is a great experience to be part of the team that was responsible for tweaking and molding CSE into the course that it is now. Likewise, I enjoy working with other teachers looking to add CSE at their school in the role of a PLTW Master Teacher. The two weeks can be long and some nights are late, but helping teachers understand how coding works and spreading the advancement of computer science is well worth it.

I am truly pleased with the decision to add CSE, as my students have the opportunity to experience computer science in PLTW’s Activity-, Project-, Problem-based (APB) format. Students are creating stories and games in Scratch and MIT App Inventor. They are expanding their CS knowledge into other fields, by using Python to create programs to use in chemistry and MIT App Inventor to create apps for competitions in FBLA. Once students graduate, they are more inclined to take elective courses in computer science, as students have told me that the experience they have from CSE has made their college CS courses less intimidating. We have students from our small high school now pursuing college degrees in computer science.

Now at our school, we are looking into the possibility of adding other courses in the PLTW CS pathway. We are looking to provide our students with more opportunity and the ability to experience computer science at a young age. If someone told me when I was completing my bachelor’s or master’s degree in mathematics and getting my state certification to teach math that I would be teaching engineering and computer science in my high school, I would be giving them a funny look and would probably shrug it off. On the other hand, I am still teaching math to these students; however, it’s in a different and better manner. The students are able to see how the trigonometry is used to solve truss calculations, or how the code segments and commands can be put together to create code that modifies images. Honestly, looking at my journey through providing education, I couldn’t imagine doing anything else.