Each month this year, we will be highlighting one member of the CS for All Teachers community.
Name: Don Yanek
Occupation: High School Computer Science Teacher, Co-Principal Investigator for AccelerateECS (NSF-funded research project), ECS Professional Development Facilitator, Illinois Computer Science Task Force, Leadership Team – Chicago CSTA
Workplace: Northside College Preparatory High School in Chicago, IL
Years in education: 28
Years teaching computer science: 23
What is your background in computer science?
I studied applied mathematics, which required several programming courses. I started teaching APCS-A in the early 90s as a result of participation in an NSF-funded summer program to train high school math teachers in the AP curriculum. I enjoyed it so much that I decided to add computer science to my teaching credentials. I completed a professional certification program at Loyola University Chicago, and now I teach only computer science!
Describe the most favorite CS project you have completed with your students.
Several years ago, my students and I collaborated with Illinois Institute of Technology’s Graduate School of Design on a project we called Thinkering: Thinking and Tinkering. It was an opportunity for my students to experience the design process as well as use their programming skills to create an interactive multimedia project. Using Scratch, Arduino, webcams, lasers, and a dance pad from the game Dance Dance Revolution, they designed an interactive installation for the school lobby. The highlight was a full octave virtual harp consisting of lasers. When the player’s hand broke the beam, a musical note would sound. Students could change the sound of the harp, by turning a multicolored cube on a pedestal. There was a webcam inside the pedestal that would read a small quick response (QR) code on the cube and change the sound samples played by the harp. The installation was very popular.
As teachers, we try every day to inspire our students. When have you been inspired by your students?
As a high school teacher, it’s difficult not to be inspired by your students’ energy and enthusiasm. What inspires me the most is when a student tells me that they didn’t think they would enjoy or be interested in computer science, and now they love it. This is a reminder to me about the benefits of stepping out of our comfort zone; trying new things is important for continued growth and overall happiness.
What is your proudest professional accomplishment?
I worked for over 10 years to make computer science a high school graduation requirement in the Chicago Public Schools. Last March, that dream came true. Our school board voted unanimously to make it a requirement starting with the class of 2019. Chicago is the first large school district in the nation to take this bold and necessary step. I am now on the Illinois CS Task Force working on a plan for the entire state to do the same. I didn’t accomplish this alone; I am fortunate to work with a brilliant and committed team of educators, administrators, and professionals.
What excites you most about the current state of computer science education in the US?
The focus on equity. Because this conversation and movement is so relatively new, I believe that we have a real opportunity to do something incredible and to do it right! I feel very strongly that access to computer science education is a social justice issue. If we truly want everyone to be able to participate and contribute in meaningful ways to our society and economy, access to a real computer science education is essential.
What is your favorite CS tool or resource?
I think that Scratch is just brilliant. It’s so versatile. I like that anyone, regardless of experience, can start creating and thinking algorithmically. It’s interesting in a sociological way, too – where else can you find such a diverse community sharing creative endeavors? You have 10 year olds and college professors in the same community!
What do you do to recharge when times are rough?
I turn to music. I am a fanatical record collector. I collect all genres, but my main obsession is New Zealand punk and indie rock from the 70s through 90s. Also, I play drums in the indie rock band, The Purcells. You can listen or purchase our music on iTunes, Spotify, or Bandcamp.
What are you reading right now?
I really enjoy reading autobiographies. I just finished Under the Big Black Sun: A Personal History of L.A. Punk Rock by John Doe. I just checked out Americana: The Kinks, the Road and the Perfect Riff by Ray Davies. I love the Chicago Public Library!
What do you enjoy most about participating in CS for All Teachers?
The diversity. Diverse learning communities are the best learning communities. Also, the great resources. There are lots of cool, creative ideas and neat materials available.