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Sharon Ball

Engineering and CS teacher at BCPS (retired), Golden Crab winner

 How did you become interested/involved in CS?

When I started teaching, there weren’t many computers in the schools for teachers to use for instruction. Most educators back then associated CS with just using computers, so the science part was not taught much. I did not specifically focus on computer science until I met the awe-inspiring Dianne O'Grady Cunniff at a teacher PD. She was sharing her vision on CS instruction for K-12 schools. In 2011, Dianne recommended I speak with Pat Yongpradit who used to work at Microsoft, but who had recently become part of Code.org’s crusade to implement CS classes in every school in the nation. When Mr. Yongpradit visited Baltimore City in 2013, Dianne arranged for us to meet to talk about Code.org’s plan for Baltimore City Schools. From that point, I was hooked. I became a member of CS Matters and CSTA of Maryland to support their vision of expanding CS to K -12 schools.

What do you find compelling about CS/your work in it?

What I find most compelling is bringing CS to an underserved and/or underrepresented student population in Baltimore City. Helping to close the gender gap in technology and computer science is also a motivator. When that “lightbulb” goes off and students realize taking CS classes will give them a distinct advantage over their peers by preparing them cognitively and technologically, that’s when you know you are helping to close the digital divide. Getting students to realize they “can” learn programming, web development and game design skills is rewarding. Students need to know it doesn’t matter who they are or where they live – all students can learn CS. Without diversity in ability, culture, and identity, our nation suffers from a loss of innovation and representation from all voices.

 What are some challenges you have faced getting to where you are now?

The biggest challenge is getting the CS resources in a timely manner that teachers and students need for classroom instruction. Industry needs graduates who are not just problem solvers and critical thinkers, they also need employees who have a basic knowledge and understanding of CS application skills. While school districts leaders want to say they are preparing students in CS because certain schools have one or two classes, the evidence of student achievement in CS at all schools just isn’t there at this time. The funding and resources needed to implement strong CS programs at all schools in Baltimore City have not been provided.

What accomplishments are you proud of? What's going well for you recently, or what
upcoming/ongoing work are you excited about?

I am proud of the accomplishments that my teacher colleagues have made in the CS pathway at Patterson High School. Especially Nicholas Yates for pioneering the long hard road to grow the CS pathway. Mr. Yates has made strides at Patterson by increasing student achievement in CS application skills and by providing professional development for any (and every) teacher who wants to improve their CS instruction.

I am also proud of the teachers, students, parents, and industry partners who support Patterson’s after-school CS programs, i.e., coding club, Girls Who Code, etc. Students in these clubs not only learn about problem solving and computer science, they gain confidence in their CS ability. Students develop teamwork and communication skills, and they get the opportunity to participate in various competitions and challenges to showcase their talent in CS.

What do you hope to see in CS education in the future? Is there continuing work that others are doing that you're excited about or impressed by?

In the future, I hope to see CS classes in all schools not just covering web development and programming, but courses in cybersecurity, blockchain, and virtual reality applications. I would also like to see students participating in off-site internships which allow them to interact with industry professionals in CS fields. Internships or job shadowing would make the transition smoother when students move from high school to the work force. Bottom line, students need to realize whether it’s information, entertainment, work or play, computer programs and CS directly affect every aspect of their lives and they need to understand how it works.

As for the continuing work of others, I am always excited and motivated by the work in CS that Maryland educators are doing. Whether it’s through CSTA, CS Matters or Code in the Schools, I am thankful to be a part of such a visionary and dedicated group of individuals that have our students’ best interest at heart when it comes to classroom instruction in CS.

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 http://cs4md.com
MCCE received initial support from the National Science Foundation, (MSP)2 Grant No. 0831970.