The demand of the future economy is on track to outpace the supply of individuals with computer science (CS) expertise in the United States. This workforce shortage will have repercussions in areas critical to the success of the nation, including national security and economic growth.
Meeting this growing demand for CS professionals will require building CS interest among all students – including those groups traditionally underrepresented in the field.
Carol Kinnard is one such educator assisting in this effort.
She first discovered her passion for CS in an introductory high school class and became fascinated with solving problems and writing code.
“I have always enjoyed riddles, puzzles, and logic games, and to me, CS is like solving a challenging riddle or puzzle: The satisfaction I get when I find the solution is huge.”
Kinnard pursued a career in CS and spent the next 18 years working as a software engineer. During that time, she developed instructional materials for some of her company's customers and held training sessions. She enjoyed the entire process and thought at some point in her future, she would try teaching.
“Later, when I was working at a small start-up, the ‘dot-com bust’ came along, and the company had to fold,” Kinnard says.
“The timing was right. I went back to school to get my credential and I've been teaching ever since. I did consider teaching at the university level but wanted to touch students' lives before they made too many career decisions.”
Today, she is an educator for Project Lead The Way and teaches the Computer Science and Software Engineering (CSE) course at Granada High School in Livermore, California.
“Being a computer scientist/software engineer has given me so much in terms of career opportunities that I want to inspire students to give it a try and maybe even make it their career,” Kinnard says.
In the course, she uses her past experience, along with the interactive curriculum, to teach students the applications of computer science – such as coding languages, big data applications, and more.
The CSE class “inspires and motivates a diverse group of students,” Kinnard says. “It empowers students to be critical thinkers, problem solvers, team collaborators, technological explorers, and brave new learners in an ever-changing world.”
Students in Kinnard’s class create their own apps for Android phones and tablets and learn about the inner workings of browsing the Internet – including how information is sent, retrieved, and displayed on different types of Web pages.
“One of their favorite projects was creating simulations with software called NetLogo,” Kinnard says. “They didn't know the language and they didn't know the application, but they felt empowered by their overall CS knowledge and were able to create new scripts and new simulations using the general tools and skills they had learned throughout the course.”
Noteworthy among the positive outcomes of the class is increased participation among a traditionally underrepresented group: girls.
“Students have been enthusiastic, and we have seen the number of girls go from under 10 percent all the way up to 35 percent,” Kinnard says. “CS is growing at our school in general, and this increase in gender diversity is encouraging.”
Kinnard notes that the CS curriculum is key to this success.
“We don't sit the students down and grind out code; we don't focus on syntax or syntactic rules,” she says. “We let the students explore, problem solve, think, be creative, and come up with their own projects.
“I also think we may have reached a critical mass where the original girls are now bringing in their friends,” she adds.
“Finally,” Kinnard says, “I have great support from the administration and the counselors, who can suggest and urge girls to take the course.”