Coordinator of Instruction at Worcester County Public Schools
In a smaller school district, like Worcester County, each central office administrator wears many hats. Diane Stulz has taken on many different roles in her years with the school system, but she has always been an advocate for bringing meaningful and creative experiences of technology with an understanding of what is really going on behind the scenes to students. She wants students to have the opportunity to experience the power and excitement of controlling robots and drones and the ability to design and create apps, websites, and programs.
But, in spite of the fact that there are many teachers and administrators who feel the same way, the biggest challenge is finding the people and time to fit it all in so that you can reach every student in every school. It's a process that will continue to evolve and expand over the years because as elementary students start to gain a basic understanding, and the middle schools build on that foundation, the high schools will need to shift up and continue to offer more advanced projects and opportunities as time goes by.
Knowing that this is a process of many steps, Diane has found many ways to build the CS program. New ideas often start out as after-school clubs and then move into the classroom like the Robotics program that quickly grew from 1 middle school teacher to 3. The Fly Like a Girl program is a new addition that is a sign of the times as drone manufacturing and maintenance businesses are considering growing their footprint on the Eastern Shore. When Diane noticed that the middle school CS classes weren't drawing a broad audience, she went on the lookout for programs that would attract girls and under-represented groups.
Finding the funding to support technology is also an ongoing challenge. There are ESSER funds that can be used to purchase lab equipment and MSDE grants for new programs and the County Commissioners funded a STEM camp. MCCE funds are used to support teacher professional development and district planning. Diane juggles it all and keeps everything moving forward. Covid has slowed down some of the momenta for the CS program, but CS has great value in any time because computational thinking is such a great opportunity for building positive mindsets and problem-solving skills for students. You aren't expected to get something right the first time, it's all about the work you do together and what you learn in the process. Project-based challenges such as robotics or app design require a wide variety of skills that help students learn and grow together. The recent move to online education has spurred more overall technology use and skills as well as the funding to purchase more equipment. Interactive online programs like Code.org, which are teacher and student-friendly, are used in 5th and 6th-grade classrooms where tech classes have evolved beyond basic typing and computer use. In middle schools, students are challenged to design mobile apps that align with their personal interests. A team of 2 girls designed an app that makes recommendations for hairstyles because they didn't see any programs that were relevant to them.
Diane taught herself much of the computer science that she is asking teachers to use in the classroom by doing the activities herself. So she speaks from experience as she continues to recruit and win over more staff when she says that you don't need a background in computer science to bring these opportunities to students but rather a willingness to work out the bugs, try new things, and keep moving forward.