Friday, July 26, 2013

CS Educator Interview: Louis Zulli Jr

Lou Zulli Jr is a quiet unassuming man. What he does with his students is anything but minor though. The projects his students have done with smartphones, SharePoint and other hardware and software have gotten him international attention. Most recently he was the invited keynote at an IT conference in Australia. Lou believes in real projects that make a difference locally in his school and in the long run more widely for his students. I’m thrilled that he agreed to this “interview.”alfred-Lou
Lou is the good looking guy on the right in this picture. I’m the other guy.

Where do you teach? What sort of school is it?

Public magnet program located in an urban/suburban high school in St. Petersburg, FL.  Highly diverse student body.

How did you get started teaching computer science?

Interesting story. I started my career as an English and Journalism teacher.  After 17 years in those fields I was asked to take on the Network Admin position at this new magnet program that had been around for three years.  The previous two network admins had messed things up and they wanted an educator in that position. I had been building journalism computer labs so they offered me the job.
After taking three years to undo the mess that the I inherited I began to build my program of network assistants. It first started out as an IT focus course but has dramatically changed to more of a practical CS course.

Describe the computer science curriculum at your school. What courses do you have and what are the focuses of each?

    • Presently all incoming freshmen take Intro to IT (IIT)  where they earn the Microsoft Office Specialist certifications and an introduction to C#. 
    • Our sophomore computing class is a full year of C#.
    • Junior year we have APCS or Object Oriented Programming depending on the level of interest and rigor the students want to tackle. 
    • It is also in their junior year that students can apply to enter my course which becomes a two year commitment if they are accepted and where my students can earn some of the advanced Microsoft Certifications such as MCPD, MC
    • We also offer a Cyber Security course as another elective.
    • Having said all the above we are in the process of “adjusting” the scope and sequence of our CS offerings. We are going to become more relevant in our approach, offering CS courses in mobile app development for Windows 8 Phone and Windows 8 and Android. (We are not going to jump wholesale into Objective C for iOS, just too impractical and too wonky). We are also going to offer web development and game development courses. These new courses will be project-based learning courses using all the appropriate languages for the specific outcome of the projects.

What is your overall teaching philosophy? Project based learning? Flipped classroom? In short, what makes your CS program “your CS program?”

It is definitely Project based learning. I use IT as the context for CS.  Using IT allows the CS student to see the practical results of their projects and how everything they do affects the systems that are used to deploy the solution.  The projects the students work on all  must have a purpose for the campus community.  So in effect they are designing solutions for the teachers, students and staff of Lakewood  High School and their needs.

What is the biggest challenge in teaching CS at your school?

Keeping the coursework relevant to the students. Many of our students have started coding in some way before they get to us.  In the past we have been able to channel them into more structured CS classes all leading to the AP CS tests in their junior years. This just doesn’t work anymore.  We have to start offering classes that pique their immediate interests and excites them to want to go farther in IT or CS or both.  This explains the adjustment to our course offerings described in number three.

What is administration’s support (or lack of support) like at your school?

It is outstanding.  Computer Science has been a core component of the Center for Advanced Technologies graduation requirements since the program was established in 1991. (Imagine what we were teaching back then.) Our present director was one of the first faculty members of the CAT Program and understands the need, relevance and importance of a strong computer science curriculum and department.  He knows that as enrollment in the CAT Program declines for various external reasons it is more imperative than ever to have a strong CS curriculum.

How do you measure success for your program? For your students?

The recent national and international recognition for our program has been a fantastic validation of what we are doing. I always wondered if we were doing it right and now I know.  My students have always had a great deal of success once they left my program.  They get paid internships with local IT companies. My students are heavily recruited for their skills by the University of Central Florida. We have had one national and four regional winners of the NCWIT Award for Aspirations in Computing. I presently have graduates working for Microsoft, Apple, Google, Ebay, the NSA (sorry about that one) and other major tech companies.

What is the one thing you like to talk about regarding your program that I haven’t already asked?

I better not answer this question because I will just end up on a soap box and start tilting at windmills. I have a tendency to howl at the moon when I answer questions like this.

School name and web site: The Center for Advanced Technologies -
(website fully designed and coded by the students in Lou’s program using SharePoint Portal Server 2010 as the base platform.)
Twitter: @lzulli
You can also find Lou on the Microsoft Partners in Learning website at

For a full list of interviews in this series please see CS Educator Interviews: The Index

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