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Suzi gerb

Suzi Gerb  


Howard County Schools

AP computer science teacher at Centennial High School



How did you get into this area?

I started programming in high school at the suggestion of my mother who was one of the really early programmers in the mid-70s. I spent many years as a software engineer and project manager, and realized I needed a change.

What are some successes and challenges you have experienced in getting to where you are now?


I'm not a natural at teaching and it took a while to learn my students' attention spans and how they learned best. However, my overall philosophy – to let students work at their own pace on projects where they do all or most of the work independently – was sound, and the projects I introduced early in my career are by and large the same ones my students use now.

I'm very proud of Advanced Object-Oriented Design, a course in software engineering that I designed from the ground up. It culminates in students using professional project management techniques to work in teams of 5-10 programmers to produce a professional quality system. Because it doesn't have an AP designation, it always seemed that someone or other was trying to get rid of it and I've had to defend it tenaciously. But when students come back after graduation, that's always the course they cite as having been the biggest help with their future career.

In my 12th year of teaching, I decided to transition from living as a male to living full-time as a female. I was concerned that my teaching would be adversely affected. However, my classroom has been run pretty much the same, and with the exception of a couple of teachers who started giving me the cold shoulder, the rest of the school community has been supportive.

What's working well? What are you proud of? 


When I studied programming in college, we were given one chance at submitting our program. If it didn't run perfectly, we failed. It was not a great way to teach, but it sure got me disciplined about testing the stuffing out of my programs before anyone else saw them. That helped me a lot in my software engineering career.

I really wanted my students to have a taste of that, so I devised a system whereby they tell me when they are ready to test their program and I run an automated test as they look on. If it doesn't work, they get to resubmit as many times as they need to, but they get a better grade if they get it right at the start.

As for the future, I plan to retire this year. My body is no longer cut out for the rigors of the school day, and it's time for a fresh eye.

Dianne O'Grady-Cunniff, dogrady at usmd dot edu
Director, Maryland Center for Computing Education

Dr. Megean Garvin, mgarvin at usmd dot edu
Director of Research, Maryland Center for Computing Education

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Maryland Center for Computing Education
3300 Metzerott Rd. Adelphi, MD 20783
MCCE received initial support from the National Science Foundation, (MSP)2 Grant No. 0831970.