The Importance of Funding

More than five years ago, my school expressed an interest in adding computer programming classes to the curriculum. Since I had not taught programming in over ten years, I wasn’t sure what languages to pursue and exactly where to start. As a technology coordinator, I was a member of ISTE and emailed some of the folks there for advice. They pointed me in the direction of CSTA. I emailed Chris Stephenson, and received excellent advice. Not only was Chris able to provide great information, she connected me with other educators and provided her entire organization’s worth of support. I joined CSTA and within the year I added Introduction to Programming to our curriculum, and students wanted more!
The summer after I joined CSTA, I decided to attend the CSTA CS&IT Symposium. The information I learned through that, and successive symposiums has been the best professional development I have had since becoming a teacher. It became clear that while ISTE was widening the net, to appeal to a broader audience, including classroom teachers and administrators, the shift displaced the resources for computer science education. CSTA on the other hand, has provided great professional opportunities and surpassed the value of ISTE, in my opinion, for a computer science educator. The two days spent at Google in Mountain View two years ago, were the best professional development I have had.
While in Mountain View, I noticed that CSTA was sponsoring and encouraging the formation of local chapters. When I discovered there was no recognized chapter for our state, I seized the opportunity, and with Chris’s help, reached out to Dr. Jan Yates. Well, Florida is a big state, and it is safe to say that computer science has not been a priority. Indeed, most Florida schools do not offer computer science courses.
Through Jan’s access at the university, we were able to form a virtual chapter, and we have been working and lobbying the state’s Department of Education to recognize the importance of computer science education and to keep it for our students. The fight is ongoing, and it is exceedingly difficult to get folks who do not understand what computer science is all about to understand why it is important to keep and expand in our schools.
The majority of computer science educators, if they are lucky enough to teach computer science full time in our state are often the only members of the staff at their schools. The ability to share and collaborate with a colleague in person on a daily basis is something that we, unlike our colleagues in math, science and most other disciplines is one of the shortcomings of our chosen profession. For these reasons, the formation of our chapter has been important to me.
I have been fortunate to attend CSTA events, and last year was elevated to the Leadership Cohort. The learning, sharing and camaraderie I have experienced in this group have been amazing. Last year, when I was offered the opportunity to have funding to provide professional development for our chapter members I seized it.
I knew it was going to be a lot of work, and this endeavor was going to take me way outside my comfort zone, but I felt in my heart it was the right thing to do for many reasons. I dove into the process of developing a training opportunity. Again, because of the size of our state, I felt that if I could team up with an existing conference, then I wouldn’t have to deal with every detail of lining up housing, travel and designing the conference. I approached the Florida Council of Independent Schools, and they allowed me to create a “track” at their existing annual November conference. Because we had our own funding secured from CSTA and Google, they allowed us to pursue our dream of a professional day for CS educators. Without the financial support it is doubtful that they would have allowed us to participate.
FCIS agreed to let us invite non-FCIS members, and I spent months planning, designing, and executing the event. Many independent schools do not offer computer science. I was lucky enough to have two speakers, Drs. Guzdial and Ericson from Georgia Tech speak about the importance of CS education, and timed it so that many of the administrators from all of the FCIS member schools would be able to hear them speak. Even if only a couple of the administrators that heard them speak expand their computer science curricula in any way, then we have achieved a lot with our opportunity. While working within the confines of an existing conference was not without its challenges, the gains to students and educators in our state made it worthwhile.
The support that I received from CSTA needs to be recognized as one of the most important components of our event’s success. Having someone answer questions, no matter how tedious, and then be present to lend a hand during the event clearly elevated the quality. The CSTA and Google funding provided many of the educators in attendance their first opportunity to spend a professional day of learning devoted solely to computer science topics. Our sessions were extremely successful and well attended. Our efforts to invite people outside of membership (emails to every school in the state) brought in folks who have become new members. In addition, the networking opportunity for attendees is something special our virtual chapter meetings cannot provide.
This funding was exceedingly important to our Florida CSTA chapter, and we would like to express our gratitude to CSTA and Google for making it happen.
Joanne Barrett
CSTA Florida Chapter, President