February 19, 2020 - Pathfinders Winter Institute

The first ever Pathfinders Winter Institute, hosted by the Infosys Foundation USA, officially kicked off on Sunday, February 16, 2020 in Providence, Rhode Island. Over 250 teachers from across the nation gathered to participate in an intensive three-day Computer Science/Maker Professional Development. The CSAwesome team was excited to be a part of this event and even more excited about the fully-funded participation of 30 public high school teachers, made possible through a Google CS-ER grant and funding from Infosys.

What is CSAwesome?

CSAwesome is a new free curriculum and professional development for the Advanced Placement Computer Science A (AP CSA) Java programming course. The goal of the CSAwesome curriculum is to provide an interactive curriculum for students that uses frequent, small practice problems that allow students to incrementally build their Java programming skills. The curriculum is provided online through an e-book and includes many opportunities for creativity and collaboration with other students. The course was designed to engage all students and support students transitioning from a Computer Science Principles (CSP) course to CSA. Students are able to practice their coding in several different ways with immediate feedback: multiple choice questions, drag-and-drop coding problems, and open-ended programming problems.

The CSAwesome Pathfinders Winter Institute Class

The 30 teachers in our CSAwesome Pathfinders Winter Institute class are from 19 different states. 

20 out of 30 are new to CSA -- their first time teaching AP CSA will be in the 2020-2021 academic year with using the CSAwesome curriculum. The teachers (and their administrators) agreed to offer and teach the course and participate in the CSAwesome research project as part of the Google grant. 23 of the teachers have taught AP CSP before this, so although they all have CS teaching experience, their level of programming knowledge varies greatly. Nonetheless, all 30 teachers, who are champions of CS and leaders of change in their schools, arrived on Day 1 ready and eager to get learn!

Typically with these kinds of events, you hear about the stories of new friendships and relationships forming between the teachers themselves as well as between the teachers and their facilitators/coaches. For the CSAwesome team, it wasn’t new friendships that captured our attention and our hearts, but rather old friendships.

Kentucky Pride

Renee Goin is a Math and Computer Science teacher at Henry Clay High School in Lexington, Kentucky.  She has been teaching Math (AP Calculus BC and Dual Credit math) for 20 years and CS for two. She has very little programming background, but really enjoys the challenge of programming and has a renewed excitement about teaching because of her CS teaching experience. Renee is happily married and a proud mom of two little ones.

Deddie Quillen, on the other hand, is a Computer Science teacher at Westborough High School in Westborough, Massachusetts.  She has been teaching solely computer science for the last five years including Exploring Computer Science, Web Design, Python, Java, and AP Computer Science Principles using the Mobile CSP curriculum (which she says is her most favorite course). She, too, is happily married and refers to her husband as her soulmate with whom she has three young sons.

An event like Pathfinders is great for bringing teachers like Deddie and Renee together to share ideas and learning experiences. But, the uniting of these two goes far beyond that -- the Pathfinders Winter Institute, brought Deddie and Renee together again after 15 years!! The two first met at the University of Kentucky (UK) in 1999 through Deddie’s future husband at the time. Renee completed the UK’s Masters Initial Certification Program and began her teaching career before later getting married, while Deddie completed her undergraduate and graduate degrees at the UK (masters of education in curriculum and instruction, math education), married, and moved to Massachusetts with her husband. The two lost contact as their life journeys lead them on different, but successful paths. Last month, Renee reached out to her long lost friend, Deddie, via Facebook informing her that she was coming to New England and wanted to catch up. It wasn’t long before they realized that they were not only both attending the Pathfinders Winter Institute, but they were in the same class!!

While attending the CSAwesome Pathfinders PD, Deddie and Renee have not only been learning Java programming together, but also rekindling their friendship. There’s been lots of smiles and laughter from these two that has brought some brightness to our room over these past three intense and rainy days. There’s also been a little bit of friendly competition along the way.  Pair programming has a whole new meaning with these two! 

Get Paired Like Barb^2!

Barbara Milleson (Jefferson High School) and Barbara Zingg (Washington High School) represent Jefferson County Public Schools in West Virginia. They have worked together for 12 years and attended the Pathfinders Winter Institute with the hope of bringing back new and exciting resources for their Computer Science classes. Being the only Mathematics Computer Science teachers at their respective high schools, they rely heavily on working together to develop the Computer Science curriculum in their district. In addition, this year is the first year of teaching AP CSA for both of them. It was no surprise to find these two ladies sitting side-by-side and working diligently together throughout the CSAwesome Pathfinders PD. 

We often hear about teachers feeling alone and frustrated when it comes to teaching Computer Science in their schools. This is what makes the two Barbs’ story so special. Even though they are at different high schools and are technically competitors (both are full of school spirit!), the Barbs have come together for the sake of their students. They have found a great support system in each other that have allowed them to be fearless in their love of learning as they tackle new curricula and projects together. It has also made them successful in bringing back the best materials and resources. What’s not to love about that!

Take a Chance - Be a Pathfinder!

We hope the teachers reading this will be inspired by these stories of friendship between colleagues. We invite those same teachers to take a chance. Call up that teacher friend or colleague of yours and say “Let’s go to Pathfinders!”. The experience is a special, one-of-a-kind opportunity for those who believe that having a Computer Science/Maker curriculum for students is essential to their futures.