Busting computer science mythsSep 03, 2022 12:58PM ● By Jet Burnham
By Jet Burnham | [email protected]
Myth: The Jordan Academy of Technology and Careers is the best place for students to take computer science courses.
While many students take advanced computer classes at JATC, many courses are offered at local high schools. Herriman High School is the only high school in Jordan District which offers the full computer science pathway, from Computer Science 1 to AP Computer Science.
“I would like to offer some additional new courses but there's just not room in the schedule,” said HHS Computer Science Department Head Sam Puich, who has started and/or expanded computer science programs at four high schools, including HHS.
Puich was one of 10 teachers in the country to receive the 2022 Computer Science Teaching Excellence Award from the Computer Science Teachers Association of America. He has 34 years of experience teaching high school and college and has worked in the programming industry.
“Sam Puich has done great work to build our Computer Science Program from one Computer Programming I offering to an abundant program that includes seven courses,” HHS CTE Coordinator Julianna Wing said. “Students in those classes are excelling with internships, jobs and post secondary opportunities.”
Myth: Computer science is a dull subject.
“Most programming courses, kids come in, they open the book to page 20, and they do a problem or two from that page, and that's not really exciting,” Puich said.
However, Puich’s computer science classes are full, and many have waiting lists, because he engages students in programming project simulations. Students take on various roles and responsibilities to work as a team to meet the needs of a client.
“By doing that, the kids are not only learning programming basics and fundamentals, but they're also learning how to solve problems using collaboration, and they're learning how the actual industry of software development works,” Puich said. “I think that gives them a head start, if that's what they want to do down the road. I try to incorporate that into my courses and the kids seem to really like that.”
Addie Sant, a former student, is currently studying at Utah State University to become a systems analyst because of her experience taking on that role during one of Puich’s in-class simulations.
“I loved that fast-paced real-world situation,” she said. “You really felt like you were doing the real thing. You weren't just doing book work all day long. You weren't just sitting at your computer typing all day long. You were given a problem, you were taught how to solve it with the basic computer skills, and then you took those skills and rearranged them in a certain way to solve that problem and create a program.”
Myth: Computer programming is for logical, left-brained thinkers and boys who like to play video games.
Sant, who graduated from HHS last year, fell in love with computer programming by accident. She signed up for her first computer science class as a sophomore, just to fill a gap in her schedule, and continued taking classes when she discovered she enjoyed it. She was surprised by how much creativity was required for programming.
“I was a dancer growing up and so I was very creative that way, but then I am so left-brained to where computer science really just fit that puzzle piece for me,” she said. “You learn the very basic skills of how to program, but then you use those tools and you twist them and you write them in your own way in order to solve this problem. It's really creative. You can really just take it and make it yours.”
She said she was always surprised when the class was given the same problem but each student or team of students came up with a unique approach and solution.
Myth: Girls and boys have equal exposure to computer science and programming.
There were just two girls in the computer science program when Puich first arrived at HHS six years ago. He focused recruiting efforts on growing female participation and last year there were 51 girls in HHS’s computer science pathway, including Sant.
Sant’s journey from programming newbie as a sophomore, to second place winner of the state Computer Science Sterling Scholar competition as a senior, to studying to become a systems analyst as a college freshman, has been influenced by Puich. He believes that girls have amazing potential in the industry if they can just break through the stereotypes.
Senior Abigayle Harker said Puich is a great mentor who really cares about his students and makes sure they know about scholarships and other opportunities. She said he provides female students opportunities to get on a more even footing with the boys.
Puich started a chapter of the national Girls Who Code Club at HHS last year. In club meetings, girls develop and program websites based on social issues.
Harker, one of the 37 members, said the club provided an opportunity for girls to gain experience, skills and confidence to be able to compete with the boys in their computer classes, who seemed to already have a headstart from playing video games and from early exposure to programming.
“There's a difference between women and men in this industry,” Harker said. “The drive of women is different than the males because they just have a different background. I was never into video games or anything like that. I like to be creative, so that led me to technology, whereas boys have a different background coming into these classes. And so, as a girl, you kind of have to work a little bit harder. I did, because I was unfamiliar with a lot of the platforms we were using or some of the lingo they would use, whereas most of the boys understood just right off the bat.”
Harker said in the all-girl environment of Girls Who Code, there was a different kind of competitiveness than in the classroom, where girls are still outnumbered by boys.
“You're not going against a boy in your class anymore so it's like, ‘Okay, here's another girl, now let's both rise to the occasion,’” she said.
Myth: Girls have no role models in the industry.
Puich invited successful women to Girls Who Code Club meetings to speak about their experiences and to provide networking opportunities for students.
Guest speakers were all local women working in STEM fields, including a BYU professor and NASA scientist, the president of a corporation, a programmer, and a woman who works for Microsoft and is president of Women in Coding at the University of Utah.
“They really related well to the girls in some of the troubles and struggles and the stereotypes of being a woman in STEM,” Puich said.
Sant said it was inspiring to hear how these women earned top level jobs.
“There's kind of a stereotype so it was so amazing to me to be able to see those women who are just like me, who made it, who were successful, who put in the work and actually got up there and are doing exactly what I want to do,” she said.
In its inaugural year, HHS’s Girls Who Code chapter was recognized by the National Girls Who Code Club. Some of the participants were also recognized by the National Center for Women in Technology.
“These programs have had an enormous impact on female students who are now pursuing degrees and careers in a wider variety of areas,” Wing said. “They have goals to start nonprofit organizations and use their skills for good. It's amazing to witness and hear about their goals.”
Myth: Computer science classes are only for students interested in STEM careers.
Harker took programming classes her sophomore and junior year, and now in her senior year is taking a database class. Even though she doesn't plan on pursuing a STEM career, she said the skills she’s learned in these classes have helped her in other areas of her life.
Experience with problem-solving, communication and collaboration skills have helped her in her role as a student government officer. The study skills she learned in computer science classes have impacted her overall study habits.
“I started taking better notes in all my other classes and saw big improvements in the way I was taking my tests and in my overall grades,” Harker said.
Sant believes everyone should take a computer science class.“You learn so many things by doing computer science, not just programming,” she said. “You learn how to take a problem and solve it and use your resources. If everybody could just take one computer science class, just to test it out, even if they didn't learn anything about computer science, they've learned a lot of life skills. I think that's what's so valuable that a lot of people mi