“When I was younger, I thought computer science was just for boys, so didn’t think it could be for me,” says Alisha Thomas, a teacher at Warren Central Junior High School in Vicksburg, Mississippi. “I thought you had to be brilliant in math and I really didn’t do well in math.”
Despite her initial impressions, Alisha had a curiosity and an interest in computer science that continued to grow. She took it upon herself to enroll in a few classes and taught herself how to create and build websites. Soon she was continually finding ways to implement computer science into her lessons.
“I couldn’t believe how fun this was, and I wanted my students to learn, but I especially want girls to learn. Because like me, some kids are probably interested in it, but they feel like they can’t do it because maybe they’re a girl or not good at math. That’s what drew me away from it.”
Five times a day, Alisha teaches eighth graders a course which bridges curriculum between middle and high school and helps students create an educational plan for their future studies and discover their interests and passions. When Code.org launched and introduced the Hour of Code, she jumped at the chance to start using the Hour of Code activities in her classroom.
“But what I wanted for my students was a computer science class using a curriculum.” Last summer, Alisha attended a Code.org TeacherCon in Houston where she learned more about how to officially bring such a class to her school.
“Even though I don’t have a background in computer science, [Code.org’s Professional Learning Program] made me feel empowered to start teaching because I wasn’t expected to know everything. They literally gave me all that I’d need to go straight into my classroom and start teaching.”
For Alisha, one of the most invaluable experiences was being surrounded and supported by other teachers, just like her.
“It was refreshing to meet others who were taking a leap to learn something new, which would not only benefit their students but benefits them! We all came to the table with weaknesses, but we could all put our strengths together and solve puzzles.”
“I had a sense of peace knowing that the staff at Code.org are always working to improve their curriculum and to find more ways to provide answers; they are really focused on supporting the teacher.”
When she began teaching computer science in her school, her biggest challenge wasn’t parents, resources, or the administration. It was the students. “In all their years of school, they’d never been exposed to the concepts or even the idea of computer science.” Many students were not opening up to the new subject initially. Like her, students had preconceived stereotypes about computer science and did not identify with them, but Alisha knew if they stuck with it as she did, it could change their lives. “Once they start getting into it, seeing what they can accomplish, the students become so much more comfortable with it, and they want to do it all the time.”
And they’ve truly embraced this new subject. “They love the fact that anyone can learn, that you don’t have to be a ‘nerd’ or a genius to do it.” Some of the students that are in her class may be struggling in school, but she knows they’re all smart kids. “They just don’t realize that smart comes in different ways. This class allows them to figure out what they’re good at. When they don’t know something, they’re getting more comfortable at asking for help. And honestly, that’s the hardest part for so many of us. They’re really building their confidence.”
Even with this newfound enjoyment and interest from students, she worries about what comes next. Their local high school doesn’t yet offer a computer science course. “It’s so disappointing because they can’t learn as much as they want to.” For many students, the only opportunity they have to learn computer science is at school. “They’re not going to be able to do it when the buses leave, until the next day. They want to learn it; but the opportunity for a structured, continuous, ongoing course just isn’t there for them.”
Still, she continues to be passionate about ensuring her students have all the opportunities they deserve and optimistic that computer science will eventually reach their high school. And when it comes to other teachers toying with the idea of bringing computer science to their own schools? She says, “just do it!”
“Because we need to expose kids to everything computer science offers. It should be a required class like math, science, or English! It’s a skill that they’ll need to have in the future. Technology isn’t going anywhere.”
“And at the end of the day, it’s not about us as teachers; it’s about doing what’s best for the kids.”
This is part of our ongoing “Profiles in CS” series, where we sit down and chat with people making a difference in their communities through computer science.
Alisha is one of thousands of passionate teachers that have participated in our Professional Learning Program. Help students like the one in Alisha’s classroom have the opportunity to learn computer science and continue learning. Find out how you can bring computer science to your school.
Maggie Osorio, Code.org
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