Introduction to Computer Science: Totally Transformational

Kennan Scott is a PLTW Engineering teacher, experienced transit engineer, planner, and designer. Kennan teaches at West Oakland Middle School in Oakland, California.

I introduced Introduction to Computer Science (ICS) to my West Oakland Middle School 8th graders last year and watched as their classroom experience transformed into an interactive creative studio. My students went from downloading applications to creating and making their own digital experiences. 

This newly formed, young design firm created applications for members of their families, communities, and friends. They professionally presented these applications to industry veterans, who were invited to rate their designs in a formal “Shark Tank” environment. Designers created applications to solve actual problems in their communities, including games to help siblings read, to help users make better food choices through calorie counting, and to entertain aging seniors. 

A group of young ladies tackled the problem of translating the various languages encountered in their daily lives. These ladies won the “Shark Tank” by creating an amazing app that with the touch of a button recorded speech, then translating it into the language of your choice. This creation represents the type of truly authentic solution that only young eyes can see and design for. We were fortunate enough to have the OUSD News channel produce a feature on these young designers, and it is wonderful to hear them tell their own transformative journeys and inspirational for all teachers to make CS a part of their curriculum. 

My 8th grade class was also transformed in a Stanford University economics classroom through the love of computer science. My students were offered an amazing opportunity through Dr. Sam Savage of Stanford University. These young designers were challenged to use their knowledge of computer science to engage with university sophomores on the flaws of averages and how coding can help reduce risk. Both groups left their virtual sessions with a mutual respect for the knowledge they were being given in their respective classes. My students would tell you that have already taken a Stanford class, and attending the university is a clearly attainable future goal. 

I expected the students to gravitate toward CS and wasn't really surprised by their engagement and early success. The most surprising effect of teaching computer science was within me. I was transformed into a person who is passionate about computer science and shares the praises of computer science education in schools. I see computer science as the ultimate language course, the bridge between other subjects like math and the creative process of engineering. Computer science mixes everything that students love and empowers them with the knowledge to create the industries of tomorrow. I thought I was just embarking on a journey into coding and teaching students a quality life-long skill. Instead, introducing this course to my students has changed the course of my teaching.  

These young designers have become amazing peer-programmers, can deconstruct a problem in order to find the appropriate solution, and have practiced presenting their incredible designs to clients. These young minds have left a year-long course with the confidence to shape the world around them. They were not only praised by members of the school community, professionals, and family but also by the district for their determination and vision. 

PLTW’s blog is intended to serve as a forum for ideas and perspectives from across our network. The opinions expressed are those of each guest author.