Spencer Small, who taught computer science at the new John Marshall High School in Cleveland, thinks of his work as far more than telling members of his class where to click.
For Small, computer science offers an exciting way for students to unleash creative ideas and develop their ability to think logically.
“I try to engage the students in the ideas behind computer science,” he said, explaining that computers can help people solve challenges and problems.
“Computer science opens gateways to other ideas.”
Small’s ideas mirror the philosophy of the technology-focused school, which opened its doors in Fall 2015 as one of three small specialty schools within the Cleveland Metropolitan School’s new John Marshall building in Cleveland.
While technology is the focus of the school, Small and Principal Chelsey Cook explain that the goal is for all learning to be integrated.
“Not only do we offer computer science principles to every student attending John Marshall IT, we also incorporate it into our curriculum, 9th grade, 10th grade, 11th , 12th , all the way through. And we don’t silo computer science, we do offer computer science principles, AP computer science principles, and eventually when we have seniors, AP, CSA, which is a Java based course, but we incorporate it into our other subject areas as well,” she said.
Project-based learning dominates the curriculum, with students building video games, working with robots or tackling big design questions.
As of the 2016-2017 school year, computer science will be incorporated into an English class at the school.
“Computer science does have some math concepts, but it’s a lot of reading and it’s a lot of informational text and every school needs more non-fiction, informational text,” she said.
Cook believes that computer science is at the intersection of liberal arts and STEM disciplines and is a great preparation for anything students want to pursue.
Katie Arraya, a sophomore who attends the school, said she plans to attend college at Ohio State University and then medical school. She, like Cook, believes that what she’s learning at John Marshall will help her.
“I’ve always known that I was going to go to John Marshall, but when they split the schools in three, I decided IT because it’s using technology and what teen does not use technology in their everyday life. It’s our generation, so I liked it.
The school’s focus is to expose students to ideas and ways of thinking that will prepare them for possible career options, but Cook realizes that there are some inherent problems with that philosophy.
“We’re really getting our students ready for jobs that may not exist today and that’s hard, that’s very difficult to do, but by exposing them to this growing world and giving them the ability to really dive into problem solving, really understand computational thinking, really understand the implication and then global impact of this world and in this change that’s happening in our world, that will help them to be successful wherever they go,” she said.