Chimacum students get with the program

Kirk Boxleitner kboxleitner@ptleader.com
Posted 2/7/17

With a few more than 300 students between grades 9 and 12, Chimacum High School is not a large school. But thanks to a Microsoft TEALS (Technology Education and Literacy in Schools) grant, it’s …

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Chimacum students get with the program

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With a few more than 300 students between grades 9 and 12, Chimacum High School is not a large school. But thanks to a Microsoft TEALS (Technology Education and Literacy in Schools) grant, it’s able to stay competitive with career and technical education (CTE) opportunities offered by larger schools.

Evan Harrison is in his eighth year of teaching CTE at Chimacum High School, but this is his first year for offering an introductory course to computer science, courtesy of TEALS.

While he supervises more than 30 students of all grades in person in the school’s computer lab, from two to four volunteers at Microsoft provide assistance to students through online chat and live webcam links.

“I like that it’s project-based learning,” Harrison said, as students wrote programs to run everything from three-dimensional mathematics to random story generators and platforms for video games. “The students create and develop their own projects. They learn by doing. It’s hands on, not just figuratively, but literally as well, with components such as 3-D printing.”

NOUNS AND VERBS

Junior Zach Riggle is working this semester on a language program that’s like the Mad Libs word game taken to the next level. He’s created templates with auto-fill spaces for various nouns and verbs, and then has to make sure the program automatically adjusts the resulting sentences to reflect the correct verb tenses and subject-verb agreement.

“I’ve learned a lot about working with algorithms,” Riggle said. “I knew some of the basics, but I never went this much in depth with it.”

Riggle has been interested in pursuing a career as a software engineer ever since attending “Engineering Days” at the University of Washington. He credited the TEALS grant-supported course at Chimacum with giving him a competitive edge when applying to colleges.

Sophomore Zoirgenne Robbins was already interested in computer programming, but the computer science course has made it “more feasible” for him to explore it as an option.

At first glance, Robbins’ project appears quaintly old school, with two “Tron”-style light cycles racing against each other on a game grid and trying not to crash into each other’s walls. The advanced component is that neither cycle is piloted by a human. Both cycle pilots are artificial intelligence programs, written by Robbins.

“It took me a good few days of school time to do this,” Robbins said. “If you get one detail wrong, it can mess up your whole script.”

Harrison emphasized that, as an adaptation of University of California, Berkeley’s “Beauty and Joy of Computing” curriculum, the introduction to computer science course is intended for beginners.

“It’s not so much for students with prior knowledge in the field,” Harrison said. “It’s fun, and it teaches them the foundations of computational thinking.”

Nevertheless, whenever Harrison sees that his students have completed one of their projects, he gently nudges them to start the next one right away.

“Come on, guys,” Harrison said. “You should always be pushing your craft further.”

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