Thursday, July 25, 2013

CS Educator Interview: David Burkhart

Today’s interview is David Burkhart from rural Ohio. Dave is another teacher who has been very active in the CSTA and is a former board member. As you read though this interview you will see how helpful the CSTA has been for Dave. Like many CS teachers he is a bit on his own and CSTA resources are important for him.

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

I teach at Sheridan High School in Thornville, OH which is a rural school with about 500 high school students. Sheridan High School is a part of the Northern Local School District in Perry County serving the communities of Thornville, Glenville, and Somerset each with around 1,000 residents. Our communities are made up of several large farms and other agricultural related activities.

How did you get started teaching computer science?

I got started teaching computer science through my involvement with Computer Science Teachers Association. At the time, I was teaching middle school Science in another district that decided to add a technology teaching position. I applied for and was offered the position. In an attempt to create my curriculum, I came across the Computer Science Teachers Association’s website. After learning more about computer science, I added the curriculum to my middle school program. Three years later, the position at Sheridan High School became open and I have been developing a computer science program at the high school level.
Computer Science Teachers Association (CSTA) has been my main source of curriculum and help in creating my CS program. Our local chapter in Ohio has provided professional development and networking opportunities to assist me in my quest to offer my students a CS curriculum. The CSTA Standards have been integral in supporting me in defining my program. With the upcoming new state requirements, the CSTA Standards have given me something to use where our state technology standards have been found to be lacking.

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

Word Processing – teaches the basics of Microsoft Word and word processing. As I add more computer science courses to my curriculum, this course has seen declining enrollment. I hope to combine this course with the Spreadsheets and Databases course to make more room in my schedule.
Spreadsheets and Databases – teaches the basics of Microsoft Excel and Access.
Multimedia – video production class. Microsoft Power Point, Google Presentation, Animoto, MovieMaker, Video Studio Pro 5, iMovie and any other program that a student might have access to on their own devices. This is the most popular course with students not interested in CS.
Web Page Design – teaches the basics of Web Page development using Microsoft Expression Web. I use the Microsoft Expression Web curriculum and I am looking at also using Code Avengers this year. Students learn HTML, design and how to use a web page editor.
Computer Science – teaches basic computer concepts using the Exploring Computer Science curriculum. Students use Scratch and Python to learn programming. We also explore the programming of robots using Lego Mindstorms.
Game Design – teaches the design and programming behind game development. We use Game Star Mechanic to learn the design concepts, Kodu to review basic programming concepts and Game Maker to extend the programming and design of games.
Java – this is my most advanced programming class with some students using Dr Java while others use NetBeans to complete programming assignments. This class is flexible depending on the students within the class. Some students remain at a very basic level while others move on to using one of my college textbooks to extend their learning.
Introduction to Microcomputers and Applications – this will be a new course for the 2013/14 school year and will be a dual credit course. Students will earn high school and college credit for this course. This course will focus on applications (MS Office) and some programming and networking concepts.

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

I like to use project based learning. I try to introduce a concept, model the concept for students, and then give them a related assignment. Not all projects will then be exactly like I had it figured out. This helps me to see new ways to do things and allows me to talk to students about alternative ways to do this same idea. Having students show me something new is what makes teaching exciting for me.
I feel that I need to learn from my students just as I hope they are learning from me too. Some of my students will come into my class with some background in CS that they have learned on their own. Some come into my classroom showing me ideas and new applications that I don’t know about. I have had to convince my students that I don’t know everything and that I can learn from them too.
I also like to have my students think about what they are doing one step at a time rather than just have them find the right way of doing something. This can be frustrating to students as they are used to just getting the right answer, they haven’t been concerned with the process behind getting the answer in the past. This seems to be a product of our current “state testing” situation. Understanding how they have gotten to this answer, I think helps them understand algorithmic thinking.
I am also experimenting with a blended classroom this year with my new dual credit class. All students in this course will meet with me during a class period and then spend another class period at some other time of the day for a work/lab period.

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

I feel my biggest challenge is being able to keep up with creating new courses, continuing with the current load and being the only CS teacher in the district. I am constantly changing things in all my courses and plan to begin consolidating the MS Office courses into a single class in the future. This will allow me more time to focus on my CS courses and developing new ones.
Some of my freedom in creating new courses comes from the fact that I don’t often ask for money to create courses. I look for free applications, free curriculum or develop my own curriculum for my courses. This factor is what makes CSTA and networking so important to me. CSTA and my networking resources are so important to me in finding new course resources.

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

I have been allowed to develop new courses (all of the CS courses and multimedia) and have been supported to create the dual credit course. Budget constraints are tough, so I have been able to create new courses without any cost to the district. The administration provided me with a new computer lab three years ago which continues to work well. This year, I will have Wifi within my room. While neighboring districts have been cutting technology programs (many schools don’t have CS in my area), my district has seen to continue our CS/Technology program.

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

I feel that my program is successful because I have students who want more courses than I am able to create. This coming year, I have a student who wants to take the APCS Exam on his own. He plans to create his own course through an independent study. I am working with him to find curriculum that he can use to study the concepts he needs to know to successfully take the APCS Exam. I have also seen a rise in the number of my students who are attending post high school programs for CS related careers.
For a full list of interviews in this series please see CS Educator Interviews: The Index

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