Teachers Explore How to Integrate Computer Science into K-12 Curriculum at UW Conference

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a lack of skill,” Armstrong said. “Once I learned that I could use math to simulate physics, or simulate biology in practice—that’s when it became interesting to me. So all through high school I was not particularly interested in math, and it took me probably through the middle of my university career until I started to see that.”

“Time and time again if I think something is too hard and I just give up, I’m disappointed,” Eng said, explaining that she passed on taking a computer science class in high school because of that same misconception—that it was too hard. “Life is hard, but you can’t always just give up. That’s the message I give high school students—if I keep working on it, then eventually I can get there. It’s just not giving up.”

“I think for those students who think they’re not good at math, I don’t necessarily believe that. I think it’s more that they don’t know how they’re interested, and that application is key,” Armstrong said.

Misconception: Boys are more inclined to study CS than girls.

Three of the four panelists were women, a testament to the falsehood of one of the major stereotypes among computer science students—that it only appeals to mathematically inclined boys who enjoy video games and web design. Coincidentally, the majority of teachers at the conference were also women. The key to breaking down this stereotype, is finding ways to encourage girls to take an interest in CS.

“Almost every single woman I know in CS, took a class for a reason, like, their boyfriend is taking the class and wanted them to take it with them,” said Krista Davis, a 2005 UW CSE graduate who now works at Google. “In my case, it was that my computer was acting up and I wanted to see if I could fix it, which of course I couldn’t, but that’s what got me in…all you need is that first class to realize you’re good at something.”

Misconception: CS graduates end up working 18-hour days, or 60+ hours a week.

Everyone on the panel vehemently disagreed with this statement. And although all agreed that, like most jobs, schedules can vary, they all expressed that generally speaking the workload is more than manageable.

“I don’t work 60 hour weeks. Maybe some people at Google do, but I don’t,” Davis said.

“My normal work day in the middle of a project is a normal 8 hour workday with a lunch,” Armstrong said, adding that hours can get long at the end of a project cycle, but that the company makes up for it with generous part-time and sabbatical weeks. “It’s only hard to see friends or go to the gym for a couple of months every two years.”

After shattering the misconceptions, the panel moved on to answering questions from teachers on how to break down barriers, appeal to students, and open the floodgates for CS opportunities at younger ages.

Question: The population of kids that are taking computer science is small. How can high school students be encouraged to get involved?

Answer: Showing students how CS applies to their lives on a daily basis by integrating elements of the curriculum into other classes.

“When I went to high school, my exposure to computers was Excel, Powerpoint, and Word. Really it boils down to exposure, and the type of exposure that is the happy welcoming thing for a high school student,” Eng said. “What really influenced me was taking classes and talking to people. It doesn’t really matter what area you go into—whether it’s biology, or business, or law—all of these computer science concepts can be applied in everything that you go into. If I had known that when I was in high school, that would have turned a light bulb on.”

Question: What other classes besides math and computer science have helped you in your career?

Answer: Drama, literature, art, debate—anything creative that bolsters thinking outside … Next Page »

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Thea Chard is a correspondent for Xconomy Seattle. You can e-mail her at theachard@gmail.com or follow her on Twitter at http://twitter.com/theachard. Follow @

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