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Ashley Benitez

Computer Science teacher, facilitator, CS advocate and CSTA-MD Golden Crab Award Recipient

Frederick County Public Schools



How did you get started with Computer Science Education?

I was exposed to Scratch programming on Twitter through some teacher groups and it looked interesting, kind of like building with Legos. Even though I never took a programming class, I knew that I liked it the first time I tried out coding with kids for an hour of code. I was an ELA (English Language Arts) teacher for middle school and we had jusgoldenCrabAwardt gotten chromebooks. The school administrators knew that I was good with technology, so they gave me one secion of a half year Tech Ed class to teach. It was a very open-ended class and I was the first FCPS teacher to use Scratch as part of the class. Then, one of the full time tech teachers retired, and I ended up teaching half ELA and half Tech Ed . After a while, I was offered a choice to either focus on teaching ELA or tech ed, and I picked Tech Ed which provided the opportunity to help develop the class for the county to use and attend distrcit planning meetings.


How do you see this exposure to CS as an opportunity for students?

I have had many students who come in and say they hate coding, but they got placed in my class... and, to their suprise, they end up really liking it! There is one student I've had every year since 6th grade who is in 11th grade now. When she was in the first year of the CS Investigations class she picked JavaScript as her language to explore and I needed the help and support of my husband, who works in computing, to learn JavaScript on the fly. I made the jump to teach high school shortly after that and this student continued to take FOCS, Intro to Cyber, and AP CSP. We're hoping that we can offer AP CS-A next year for students like her. Students are advocating for more CS and the CS honor society is helping to recruit a variety of students.


What connections do you see between Computer Science and Cyber?

There are so many connections. Students do an introductory unit in cyber in the Foundations class, and they see cyber in the news every day with data breaches and hacks. Our business courses were redesigned to include an understanding of the effects of cyber on businesses.

I would really like to see a Maryland Cyber Range become available. It would be beneficial for every student to have the opportunity to be exposed to what hands-on cyber is like. Look at all the defense contractors and security firms in this area; every company needs someone with cyber knowledge. We can use the Virginia US cyber range, which is free for all Virginia schools, but it is very expensive to use out of state. That's not equitable and affordable. We have tried working with local colleges, and UMGC makes their NetLabs+ available, but that is a short-term grant and there’s a learning curve where you have to keep rewriting curriculum for each different environment when you change.

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.