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Andrea Robertson-Nottingham

(She/her)

Facilitator Network Manager for code.org 

 

 

 

How did you get into CS?

My first experience with computer science was when my dad brought home a Commodore 64 computer- yes, I'm dating myself- way back in the eighties and I started to learn how to “play” with it; that’s how I thought of what I was doing at the time. Then, I had an opportunity to take the AP Computer Science course in high school; I believe it was maybe the second year that it was being offered, ever. When I went to college, they didn't have computer science as a separate major, so I actually majored in electrical engineering with a computer focus. I had a community service experience with middle school students during that time and decided I wanted to be a teacher before my senior year of college. There was no certification for computer science- that’s only just now beginning to come on board, and this was the late eighties- so basically I had to become a math teacher with the hopes of eventually landing in computer science teaching, and that's what happened. I started teaching in math, then moved to engineering, and then finally ended up in computer science. I was in the classroom for 26 years; it's only been about 4 years now that I've worked for Code.org, supporting our network of facilitators who provide professional learning experiences for computer science educators. 

 

What are some successes and challenges that you've had along the way?

One of the reasons I actually wanted to become an educator was that I did have significant challenges as an engineering/computer science student at the university level. I was one of the few female people and one of the few Black people in my courses, ALL the time. It was a very isolating experience, and all the things that come along with that- not being sure whether I could do it, not being sure that I could get help when I needed it- all those challenges were there, and I just wondered: with all the access that I had as somebody who had parents who were really into technology and education, what about kids who didn't? Who was gonna help them through it? If I was having these kinds of challenges with my level of privilege, what's happening to kids who don't have access to quality education in a district that's fully resourced? So that's where I was, and it was a challenge to narrow myself down to computer science. I spent a lot of time teaching math, because the way that it was structured then- which is now changing- was that computer science was one of those things that only “special people” got to teach; you kind of had to wait your turn. So it took a while to get to the point where I could actually teach computer science, and it shouldn't be that way. People with a background in computer science, who are knowledgeable and have the passion for teaching it to young people, should be able to teach computer science right out the gate. 

I'm most proud of the fact that I work for an organization that is committed to making sure that all students have access to computer science education supported by high-quality professional learning. It's not just pushing out products and hoping that teachers are able to pick it up; there’s a whole system and network of people who are dedicated to making sure that teachers can actually implement it in their classrooms. I am proud of my network of facilitators and the work that they do every day to support teachers out in the field.

What do you find compelling about computer science?

What's compelling to me is that computer science is a tool that people can use to improve their own lives. That's why I'm so passionate about making sure that all students have access to it- because it is a career path, or a framework for thinking, that really can elevate communities and help people solve problems. And because that's generally how we solve problems now- with some sort of software, a button we can press, an app that you can write that gives you access to something- making sure that everybody has access to these tools that make life more efficient and enjoyable is a social justice thing. Increasing diversity in the field and making sure that more voices are heard so that we can solve different problems with different solutions than what has been occurring over the years is exciting and empowering.

What's going well for you? What are you excited about?

I'm right in the middle of preparing the onboarding process for our next cohort of new facilitators, so I'm excited to meet those folks and give them the resources and support that they need to bring this to more teachers. The prospect of how we can incorporate a lot of different things, whether it's AI or cybersecurity, whatever somebody's cooking up right now in a lab; being able to bring that to students so that they can use their creativity to collaborate, to change the world, essentially- that's a really exciting prospect.

Any advice?

Like most teachers, you have to be a lifelong learner yourself- but the field changes much faster than any other field. Once I was a math teacher I pretty much had what I needed to know, but in computer science things are always changing; there's always something emerging that we as teachers have to use our expertise to figure out how to bring to our students. So I would just encourage people to just keep doing that and making sure that all students, regardless of zip code, abilities, interests, or background, get access to the skills that computer science develops.

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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MCCE received initial support from the National Science Foundation, (MSP)2 Grant No. 0831970.