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Yough welcomes Carnegie Mellon’s free computer science curriculum

Deb Erdley

Yough Senior High School in Herminie sits amid the rural countryside of Westmore­land County, a world away from the tech hubs that have cropped up in Austin, Silicon Valley and even Pittsburgh.

But that hasn’t kept Yough students from accessing a cutting-edge computer science curriculum on Python, a computer coding language that is among the standards used in robotics and animation.

Yough computer science teacher Margie Santmyer Raimondo labeled the program a godsend. She found it online last fall when searching for new resources for her students.

“Google, Amazon and Facebook are examples of a few of the organizations that use Python,” Raimondo said.

“I’m always looking for new curriculum because things change so quickly and material becomes outdated. … This is something that would have cost us thousands and thousands of dollars because these companies usually charge per student and, with (Carnegie Mellon University), it was all free,” Raimondo said.

She said that probably was a factor in Yough’s decision to fast-track approval for the pilot program.

Erin Cawley, a former computer science teacher who manages CMU’s Computer Science Academy, said that’s the point of the program.

Although Pennsylvania has adopted standards for computer science teachers and is advancing those standards, it has yet to require instruction in the topic. There are dramatic variations in course offerings from one school to the next that sometimes leave incoming college freshmen foundering.

“We don’t see how we can bridge the gap in technology in our communities if we don’t provide this for free,” Cawley said.

Raimondo’s students — a group of eight freshmen and two seniors — agreed to sacrifice an early morning study period to jump into the program when it became available this semester.

On a recent morning, Yough senior Ian Olson arrived at the computer lab 10 minutes before anyone else. Raimondo said Olson, 17, has been working furiously at his own pace and is far ahead of most of the class.

The soft-spoken student, who talks to his screen as he maneuvers through the training program, said Python will almost certainly play a big role in his work as he continues his studies next year.

“I’m going to community college for software development. Having this when I get there will put me a big step ahead. Python is a building block for other programming languages,” he said.

Steven Kenderes, a freshman, said he was excited to learn who was behind the Python program.

“This is the first time we got an opportunity to work with coding with CMU. They’re the best around,” he said.

Teachers in 14 high schools with 400 students piloted the program in 2017-18. Another 26 schools, including Yough, Franklin Regional, Greater Latrobe, Penn-Trafford and Pittsburgh Public Schools, are now using the curriculum.

Two professors at CMU’s world-renowned School of Computer Science, David Kosbie, an associate teaching professor, and Mark Stehlik, the assistant dean for outreach, partnered as founders and co-directors of the Computer Science Academy.

Cawley said the two have been heavily involved in writing notes for the program and engaged a crew of CMU students to help create exercises that teach Python through a series of animated graphics.

Raimondo said the students also provide great back-up and technical advice for high school teachers who sign on to the program.

This spring, she plans to bring in a couple of robots and have her students tap their Python skills to program them to do tasks around the school.

Next fall, the course will be offered as part of Yough’s regular curriculum. Raimondo said she likes that the program allows her to monitor student progress and add or restrict information to pace the lessons.

Although students need some knowledge of algebra II to use the program, Raimondo said it is well within the reach of most high school students.

“This is great because it is not just limited to the upper 10 percent of the class. This is something our students can work on at all levels. I just hope the word gets out and more high schools are able to use this,” Raimondo said.

Deb Erdley is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Deb at 724-850-1209, [email protected] or via Twitter .


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Deb Erdley | Tribune-Review
Yough High School freshman Kayla Gerdich works on a Python programming exercise from Carnegie Mellon University.
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Deb Erdley | Tribune-Review
Yough High School senior Ian Olson has raced ahead in the Python programming curriculum provided by Carnegie Mellon University.
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