Learning Computer Science by Doing

Katie still recalls the moment at Digital Pioneers Academy when something clicked for her and she was like “Oh my God. I’m coding!” With no previous experience in computer science, she had to get lots of support from her teachers to find success. She knew she was smart and hardworking but she never saw herself as a computer scientist.  

This would be an inspirational, if unremarkable story, except for one important detail: 

Katie isn’t a student at DPA.  

Katie Adenrele is DPA’s Assistant Principal in charge of our computer science program! 

At DPA, we recognize that teachers with little formal training in computer science can still be trained to be really effective teachers of the subject.  

Katie Adenrele’s degree is in communication and her time in education before DPA included roles as a college counselor and a PE teacher.  

Katie first joined us as our Director of Talent. One of my requirements is that every leader at DPA has to spend some time in the classroom. And I told her that if she’s going to be good at recruiting computer science teachers, she better spend time as a computer science teacher.  

At DPA, we teach computer science through a project-based curriculum. We ask scholars pointed questions to get scholars on the path to the right answer. A lot of the teacher planning thus becomes scripting questions to probe the concept scholars are struggling with.  

As Katie put it, “the key to learning computer science is doing scholar work. You don’t put work in front of kids that you have not done.” Of course, you can’t just throw a teacher in the water without some swim lessons and a life jacket.  

As she started out, Katie received weekly - even biweekly - coaching and support from a computer science curriculum specialist. Eventually, she learned computer science well enough to be able to lead the department.  

So what do we look for now when we are hiring computer science teachers? A computer science certification is a nice-to-have but it isn’t a requirement. We look for teachers who bring certain mindsets to teaching.   

Willingness to work hard: DPA is still a start-up organization. We are looking for educators who want to roll up their sleeves, work hard and, in many cases, learn by doing.  
Flexibility: We look for educators willing to take on some challenges outside your comfort zone. You have to be someone who embraces that challenge. 
Collaboration: We provide our computer science teachers with a whole lot of support and coaching. But you have to be the kind of person who likes working with other people and accepting candid feedback. 

All of that feedback led to that aha moment when a former college counselor and PE teacher with no background in computer science suddenly realized she could code.  

It’s that lightbulb moment of inspiration that she is now helping our teachers bring to our students.

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