Each month, highlighting a member of the CS for All Teachers community
Name: Michael Stone
Occupation: Director of Innovative Learning
Workplace: Public Education Foundation
Years in education:12
Years teaching computer science: 5
TEACHING Computer Science (CS)
What interests you about computer science?
I love that computer science gives students, particularly K-12 students, an opportunity to engage in authentic work—perhaps earlier than any other subject. While CS is a great mechanism to help students develop problem solving, analytical, and collaboration skills, I get most excited about how quickly it hooks students. With the advancements in visual programming platforms in the last decade, students as young as four or five years old can now create functional, interactive applications. Empowering students to create real products embeds a deeper sense of ownership over their learning and entices them to go further down the CS rabbit hole.
How did you start teaching computer science? Do you have a background in CS?
My undergraduate degree is in CS, and my first fews years out of college, I worked as a database manager and a web developer. However, after a few years in the field, I realized my true passion was working with teachers and students. While teaching math at a large suburban high school in Tennessee, I sought out an opportunity to teach AP CS A. After teaching the course for a couple years, I worked with a colleague and collaboratively created a full grades 9-12 CS pipeline for our students.
How have your computer science students inspired you? What is your favorite CS project you have completed with them?
Today, I work with teachers across the country to identify innovative strategies to integrate CS in elementary classrooms. Rather than focus on a particular project or application, we are constantly working to help teachers see that CS can be used as a tool to demonstrate student learning. However, my favorite project I have seen came from a young lady who discovered she enjoyed CS late in high school. For her senior project, she created a programmable teddy bear that used a microcomputer to allow children to program various actions (e.g., LEDs lighting up, voice recordings, etc.) when they connected the toy to their computer. CS changed her idea of what was possible, and as a result, changed her life!
How do you recruit students into your CS classes?
I do not currently have a classroom myself but when working with teachers on how to recruit students to CS, particularly students from traditionally underrepresented populations, I encourage them to show off early and often. Essentially, I believe that when leveraged correctly, CS offers young students their first opportunity to engage in authentic work in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM). Because math and science require significant baseline knowledge before unbridled application can be introduced, I believe students often disengage because they recognize the trivial problems they are challenged with and quickly become disinterested. While those fundamentals are critically important, I think we have an opportunity to recruit students to CS by highlighting the fact that they can solve real problems with functional solutions, and with a limited learning curve. There is still much work to be done here, but I believe the tide is changing.
CS EDUCATION COMMUNITY
How do you get other teachers, administrators, and community members excited about computer science?
Again, it’s about showing off great student work. In the digital age, even young students can quickly call a bluff. You can’t trick people into thinking that students are doing real work when they are not. CS offers teachers a tool to empower students to engage in authentic work in a way that simply isn’t otherwise possible. Statistically, community members don’t need much prompting. They realize how important CS is in the emergent workforce. For administrators, I believe it is about showing them how CS can help students better understand core standards. Like it or not, we have to play in an education climate controlled by high stakes tests. Showing administrators that CS can help their students perform better on quantitative metrics is a strategy we employ often.
What excites you most about the current state of CS education in the US?
The momentum. I hear CS discussed more now than ever before. While there is still much work to be done, it is clear that the US is riding a wave of momentum in CS that is unparalleled. It is also particularly nice to see the amount of intentionality that programs like Exploring Computer Science and others place on not only recruiting, but identifying with and tailoring instruction to, students from traditionally underrepresented populations.
What do you enjoy most about participating in CS for All Teachers?
The community. At the end of the day, education always has been, and always will be, about people. CS for All Teachers provides an outlet for early adopters and experts to collide and collaborate. It helps alleviate the feeling of isolation when teachers perceive themselves (often correctly) as the only person in their building who is trying to bring CS to their students.
Besides the CS for All Teachers community of practice, what is your favorite CS tool or resource?
I absolutely love CodeSpark Academy’s The Foos. Their team has done excellent work in the past three years creating a gamified app that introduces foundational computer science principles to early grade students while completely eliminating the literacy barrier that is present in other visual coding platforms. I have trained hundreds of teachers on their system, but my best endorsement…my daughters both LOVE it! It’s the only educational app on their iPads that I don’t have to bribe them to play.
What is the biggest piece of advice you would give to potential CS educators?
If you have an interest, jump in. It starts with a giant leap but you quickly find there is a thriving community of other likeminded teachers to support you and an ever-growing set of phenomenal resources. The biggest hurdle for many teachers is a lack of confidence. Most of us weren’t formally trained in CS, so we have an understandable hesitancy to try the unknown. However, a few months of intentional focus, and I believe anyone can begin a journey to bring CS to their students.
TELL US MORE!
What is your proudest professional accomplishment?
I was blessed to serve as an Albert Einstein Distinguished Educator Fellow at the National Science Foundation in the Directorate of Computer and Information Science and Engineering under Dr. Jan Cuny. Dr. Cuny’s wide-ranging influence and laser focus empowered me to learn and grow professionally while also opening countless doors for experiences that still seem surreal.
Write a poem or haiku describing what teaching CS is like.
Teaching CS is dynamic and fun
When you think you’ve got it
You’ve only just begun
What do you do to recharge after a long day (or week, month, year, etc.) of teaching?