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Norm McGaughey 

Coordinator of Career & Technology Education

Frederick County Public Schools



How did you first get interested in computer science?

In the early ’90s my neighbor worked for IBM and his son was one of the original programmers that coded Internet Explorer.  At the time, I was still working in the investment industry but began to use computers for basic data analysis.  My neighbor was my first mentor in computer science, so when I work with people who are new to technology, I try to remember how it was for me back then.  Since then,  everywhere I have worked, I was the “go to” person for technology help.   I know technology, but honestly I’m a problem solver.  I think the misconception about computer science is that people are referred to as the “Tech Person” or “Computer Geek.”  I believe those of us who are good with computer science are really just problem solvers with a don’t quit, growth mindset attitude.

Why do you think that students in your district should have the opportunity to learn CS?

To be successful today in any job you must have the ability to problem-solve and think critically in order to assess problems and find solutions.  I learned this at an early age working with my father and grandfather renovating houses, working on engines, and solving any problem that came across their path. My Google in the ’70s was my father, grandfather, and uncle. Not all students have this opportunity, but a Computer Science class, which is now accessible to all students in our district, provides the opportunity for every student to enhance their problem solving and critical thinking skills. If we can teach a student to “learn how to learn” and equip them with some grit, they will be successful in whatever career they choose.

Describe something interesting about CS in your district that you have learned about CS

The major lesson I have learned about computer science over the years is that you can’t do it alone and you are never the expert. The smartest person in any classroom is “the classroom” and this concept is magnified in a computer science classroom.  This same concept relates to a system if you are trying to build and grow computer science. The best computer science teacher in our county is the team of teachers we have in our school system, but also the experts we collaborate with at our local colleges, Frederick Community College and Hood College.   This is really what sets our district apart, the collaboration we have among our teachers and other key stakeholders from our community and the state.

Describe some successes and/or challenges about implementing CS in your district. What are some of your strengths as a team? 

Four years ago, we began to stress the importance of computer science in middle school.  We included computational thinking units into the majority of our classes and revamped an elective that focused on computer science. The MCCE grant provided us opportunities to train our teachers and proudly they took advantage of it.  Four years ago we had 10 computer science teachers at the high school level.  We have since tripled our computer science teachers, 16 in high school and 14 in middle school teachers who are now involved in teaching computer science in our system.

The major challenge is getting computer science into our elementary curriculum.  Our team and teachers are doing a great job at taking on this challenge with Coding Clubs and Family Code Nights, but we know we must continue to push to have it infused into the curriculum and provide an opportunity for all students at the elementary level. I truly believe that teaching this skill to all students will be a major step in eliminating the achievement gap.

Frederick County Public schools is seeing strong growth in High School Computer Science courses for the 2020-2021 school year, with a 38% increase over last year and a 5-year increase of 313%. **
  *   The largest 1-year increases came from African American Females (66%), African American Males (60%), and Hispanic Females (81%).
  *   33% of the students taking computer science courses in FCPS are female compared to 17% five years ago.
  *   ALL 10 of our high schools increased enrollment, thanks in part to the computer science exposure our middle school teachers are now providing to each and every student.  Everyone crushed it!!!

The numbers are fantastic, and along with the talented group of high school and middle school teachers we have is the tremendous support from our local colleges: Frederick Community College and Hood, along with the great support from our friends at MSDE, MCCE,, Girls Who Code, Code In The Schools, and Carnegie Mellon University Computer Science Academy, Mt. St. Mary's College, and Frostburg, we think it is just the beginning.


** Note: from local, unpublished data pulled October 2020.

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.