Terence Stone: CS teacher, facilitator, and hackathon leader
St. Charles High School. Charles County Public Schools
How did you get into Computer Science?
My computer science journey started in high school in Kingston, Jamaica. I had the opportunity to choose between taking a CS or a drafting class. I love art, and I really wanted to do the drafting, but I couldn’t do both. This was back in the day when floppy disks were being phased out for hard drives and technology looked very exciting. But the school had a hard time retaining a CS teacher and there were no CS books, so we learned on our own and from the students who were a grade ahead of us. In order to earn credit for the class, we had to create a program in Visual Basic and send it to England to be evaluated!
How did you get started teaching Computer Science?
I had a strong interest in advertising, which led me to learn about web design. In grad school I learned to develop interactive pages in the advertising program, but I started out making simple web pages.
What do you enjoy about teaching CS?
It’s been a really cool journey. There are so many opportunities for students to be creative. Many of my former students have gone on to study CS in higher ed. I wanted to be the teacher for these students that wasn’t there for me. I knew what it was like to be interested and not have someone there to guide you. It's very satisfying work!
Some of the most fun I have had is the opportunity to travel and meet a lot of people who share my enthusiasm for computer science. When the AP CS Principles course was being developed, I was able to become one of the pilots and later one of the first facilitators. My learning journey took me to Florida, Philadelphia, West Virginia, Massachusetts, Arizona, Nebraska, Louisiana, Georgia, and Illinois. You meet teachers across the country and see the similarities and differences. Students are mostly the same, but the school districts and states can be very different. We are always learning from each other. I had the opportunity meet the governor of MD and bring students to present their CS work to him, and I also presented with students to NSF (National Science Foundation) and to state leglislators. It's a great opportunity to be part of making change.
We have so many great resources in Maryland. One of my favorite places to attend workshops is the John Hopkins APL in Columbia, MD. What an amazing place! They are at the edge of innovation in space, cyber, robotics and so much more.
One of the things I really enjoy doing with students is holding our annual HackaThon [ http://hackschs.info/ ]. Hackathons are events that are organized so that people can collaborate on new ideas. The organizers create challenges, and teams are formed to come up with solutions. Sometimes it’s on a certain theme, and sometimes it is focused on certain resources; it depends on who is sponsoring the event. Usually, you have to solve a problem in a computational way: it could be a coding challenge in any language, or a social issue like providing free wifi, or ways to leverage software products in new and innovative ways to benefit people. Much of the innovation in computing is focused on improving access and opportunity for the people who need it the most. Hackathons usually provide opportunities for people at many different skill levels. They're there to foster new ideas and to produce creative solutions for different problems that we have.
I've also participated as part of the support team for college level hackathons. For someone like me, without a traditional CS background and having learned mostly on my own, it's interesting and exciting to be able to be a support for college level students who are doing project development.
What are some of the challenges for CS teachers now?
A challenge that a lot of CS teachers are facing now is the toll the pandemic has taken on both teachers and students. Some of the foundational knowledge that students are missing is just becoming obvious as this year moves forward. We're trying to keep moving ahead while giving students the foundation that they missed last year.
Many students were successful last year learning online, but there are gaps that become apparent when you are with them in person in the classroom. The 1-to-1 interaction provides so many more opportunities for personalized support, such as strategies to debug code and making connections between concepts. There are many reasons why students might not have gotten as deep a grasp of the skills online as they do in person. There are a lot of strategies and ways of teaching that we use in person that make it clear who is struggling; or we glance at their work while they are working on it, and that better informs our teaching by helping us identify the needs of the class or individual.
One good outcome from last year was that we built a strong teacher community. The district supports CS teachers with PD time and workshops. Here at my high school we have three teachers on staff teaching CS. Every school in the county has at least two CS teachers and offers a variety of CS options for students. Charles County serves a very diverse student population and we have very strong programs for Computer Science and STEM.