A gaggle of students stood in front of Broad Run High School, looking upward as a remote control helicopter darted amongst them. The helicopter wasn't just a simple toy; a computer scientist had come and programmed a Nintendo Wii controller to steer the chopper. The juniors and seniors had just watched computer science in action and it was more than fixing dad's old Dell.
According to the January Board of Labor statistics report, more than 12 million Americans are currently unemployed. Among recent college graduates, 53 percent are either unemployed or underemployed. Conversely, the field of computer science is expected to grow 22 percent by 2020 – more than 150,000 jobs a year – but is struggling to find workers to fill the void.
But a program manager from Microsoft is seeking to change that and is hoping Loudoun can help.
Introducing TEALS, Technology Education And Literacy in Schools, a program designed to expand computer science studies across the country.
The program, which is now offered at 37 schools across eight states, is in its first year in Loudoun County, with pilot programs at Broad Run, Stone Bridge and Park View high schools.
In most states, Microsoft or other technology professionals teach a class for a small stipend, working with a math teacher already employed by the school. The goal is to have that teacher run the class independently within two or three years.
Andrew Ko, an Ashburn native and the general manager of Microsoft's U.S. Partners in Learning program, was instrumental in bringing TEALS to Loudoun.
"We believed there would be a positive ambiance here," Ko said. "Knowing our community, we knew there would be a good demand. Kids want to know the real-life connection."
Because Loudoun already offers computer science classes, including AP computer science, the program works differently. A professional still comes to the classroom, but works as a teacher's assistant, helping to facilitate lessons and provide real world applications.
These teachers' assistants offer their help on a volunteer basis.
At Broad Run High School, Steven Winward acts as the teaching assistant to a class of 13 juniors and seniors in AP computer science. Winward grew up in Fairfax County and attended James Madison University for his undergraduate degrees in mathematics and computer science. He recently completed his master's in computational science at George Mason and has been employed as a consultant at Microsoft since 2010.
When Winward was offered the opportunity to volunteer in Loudoun, he eagerly accepted and has largely enjoyed his role thus far.
"For some of these kids, it's the first time they've taken a computer class and it's really fun to see them learning," Winward said.
Winward has helped bring three industry speakers to the classroom, in addition to helping assist the students in their lessons.
Lead teacher Joe Schwarz said Winward brings a tangible benefit to the classroom.
"Steve's able to add insight as to how the content we're discussing relates to other topics that we've discussed and other technologies the students may be familiar with," Schwarz said. "The perspective he brings is well beyond the perspective I have."
Schwarz isn't the only one who has enjoyed the TEALS program. The students were eager to discuss Winward and the speakers he brought to the classroom.
"The speakers make the class more tangible and more fascinating. Mr. Winward brings in real life examples and things he's done," said junior Shabhez Khan. "Recently we were working with different algorithms and he was able to bring in his knowledge and make power-points and give sort of an in-depth view of how algorithms work."
Sharon Ackerman, the assistant superintendent for instruction, said the praise that Winward has received has been echoed for the other volunteers at Park View and Stone Bridge high schools.
“I've been really pleased,” Ackerman said. “The volunteers are serious and dedicated ... they have a passion for what they do.”
Though Microsoft and Loudoun County Public Schools are waiting to gauge the success of the TEALS program, the goal is to expand it amongst the other schools in the county.
"The original vision was to expand it to all the high schools in the county," Ko said.
The history of TEALS
Kevin Wang, a University of California (B.S.) and Harvard University (M. Ed) graduate, began the program in 2009. Wang was dismayed at the low numbers of kids studying computer science; just 19,390 of the 14 million Advanced Placement tests taken in 2010 were in computer science. Originally, the program began with just Wang, who volunteered to teach a section of computer science at a Seattle high school. When Microsoft caught wind of Wang's efforts, they invested money toward the effort and asked Wang to run it. Thus, TEALS was born.