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Microsoft's TEALS program: Facilitating computer science education, coding at a younger age

The Technology Education And Literacy in Schools, or TEALS, program helps struggling schools with remote computer science and technology education.

A couple of weeks ago, I stumbled across a video posted to YouTube by the Microsoft Citizenship group titled "Woolly worms to worlds of opportunities: Jeremy's story." The video tells a story of a high school student from Beaytyville, Kentucky, named Jeremy who wants to be a software engineer, or more specifically, a game designer. Unfortunately for Jeremy, his school didn’t have much of a computer science program, so he tried to learn as much as he could on his own. That only got him so far, though.

Being passionate about a particular topic like software engineering or coding and teaching yourself the fundamentals is great. Some self-taught software engineers have gone on to produce some amazing things. But the fact is the vast majority of students need the guidance and advice of an experienced teacher to thrive with difficult, and often specialized, computer science-related subjects. What makes me say that? Because I was one of them.

I was originally introduced to computers way back in the early 80’s when I was taught BASIC programming in the fourth grade using Commodore P.E.T.s. Shortly thereafter, my parents bought me a Commodore 64 to tool around with at home, and I was hooked. Throughout elementary school, "Computers" was my favorite subject and I was eventually voted "Class Computer Whiz" when I graduated 8th grade. And yes, I still have the yearbook to prove it.

Jeremy and his classmates are taught programing

Unfortunately, when I hit high school, computer science and programming classes weren’t being offered because the school didn’t have the budget for a modern computer lab. It wasn’t until my junior year that the school offered any sort of computer or programming classes, and when it did, it was BASIC all over again. Even worse, the teacher had virtually no experience with programming and was literally learning as she went along and was teaching right from the text book. After expressing our distaste for the class, a classmate and I eventually ended up (unofficially) teaching it, but we got much less out of the class than the other students who hadn’t already been exposed to computers in grade school. Needless to say, I was woefully unprepared for the more advanced programming languages being taught in college once I arrived.

Luckily for Jeremy, his school hooked up with Microsoft and was able to leverage the Technology Education And Literacy in Schools, or TEALS, program. TEALS allows experienced computer science teachers to remotely teach students using various video conferencing technologies. And the program appears to be working. Jeremy’s school couldn’t afford the teachers or technology to properly teach computer science-related subjects without TEALS, and students in the program are doing well. Jeremy originally thought he wouldn’t even go to college and was bored by other subjects. Now, he is on the honor roll.

If you haven’t heard of TEALS, you can read up on the program here. And if you know of a school that could benefit from the program, be sure to mention it to administrators and spread the word. The more people promote and talk about programs like TEALS, the more likely they are to be funded and implemented. Considering how important computer science and technology education will be to current and future students, we can’t afford NOT to push an efficient and apparently successful program like TEALS.

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