The high-schoolers crouch over laptops in pairs, examining the array of buttons on the screen before them. There is a quiet buzz of activity in the dimly lit classroom as the teachers slowly make the rounds, offering help and advice.
Lessons like this are becoming increasingly common in Cabrillo Unified School District classrooms as it launches a computer science program. In January, the Cabrillo Education Foundation announced that it was setting aside $40,000 in grants to support pilot computer science courses at school district sites this academic year. The Cabrillo Education Foundation operates independently of the school district and allocates funding for Cabrillo Unified educational initiatives. It determines its allocations through an annual grant application and review process.
“In addition to literacy, science and 21st century learning, we chose computer science in a coordinated cross-district program as one of our four key focus areas because it helps students with college and career readiness and opens up new career pathways,” said John Ediger, the CEF board of directors vice president, in an email. “Computing is becoming pervasive in society and in most all careers.”
At Half Moon Bay High School, computer science is being introduced with the help of University of California, Berkeley, and TEALS, or Technology Education and Literacy in Schools. Started by a Microsoft employee in 2009, TEALS helps high schools build computer science programs by pairing computer science professionals with classroom teachers. Currently there are five volunteers who switch off teaching the Half Moon Bay High course throughout the week. Half Moon Bay High math teacher David Jones serves as the teacher of record, learning the material along with students.
“It takes a lot of pressure off the teacher,” Jones said. “I can be a participant in the class. They could teach me right now.”
On Thursday, students were doing “pair programming” to build a side-scrolling version of a Mario Brothers game. Junior Aneesha Gharpurey and senior Victoria Sciaroni worked together on the assignment. Both said they signed up for the class because it looked interesting and different from any elective they had taken before.
“It’s really good we’re learning it as older people in school, but if it started at elementary school we would be so much better at it,” Sciaroni said.
Nonetheless, it’s helpful that Cabrillo is starting this districtwide initiative, Gharpurey added.
“It’s really important because of the era we’re in,” she said. “It opens up more opportunities and places for curiosity for people to find something they want to do.”
Dan Bernstein, one of the volunteer teachers, manages a software group. His daughter attended Half Moon Bay High, and he says he enjoys demystifying computer science for the current crop of students.
“It’s really feeling like it’s an essential skill, like learning to drive a car,” Bernstein said. “Our adult lives would be more difficult if we didn’t drive. Working with computers will be an essential life skill for this generation and beyond.”