Thanks are in order

So we’re gearing up for Thanksgiving around here, and I’ll no doubt post a slightly cheesy things-I’m-thankful-for essay later this month.

Escaping cheesiness by being less cliched, though, and more timely to me, I’ve got some thanking to do. As anybody who’s personally connected to me probably knows, my dad died four weeks ago, and in working both through the associated emotions there and on setting up this blog, I’ve come to realize there are a lot of connections to be recognized and appreciated.

My dad was a relatively early adopter of technology – some of my earliest memories are playing a computer game in ’93 or ’94 that involved manipulating animated rodents of some kind through a landscape of tree houses, and sneakily watching my parents puzzle their way through Myst and then Riven together. They had a car phone and then cell phones early, and I remember poking around with the text-based card games on their early cell phones, trying to think about how they must work.

More importantly, though, my dad taught me to use the internet, showed me how hotkeys worked, and gave me an introduction to algorithmic thinking by teaching me to beat the computer players in the Hearts game that came with Windows 98. He set up my first email, let me be part of my childhood church’s transition from slide projectors to PowerPoint, and bought the graphing calculator that gave me my first taste of writing code.

Eventually, I went to a STEM-focused charter school that was residential, a place among the 10% of American schools that teach computer science. It’s really only in the last little while that I’ve come to realize how hard that was on my dad – he wasn’t great at expressing feelings in words, but at the visitation a friend’s mom made a point of telling me about the time – shortly after I’d left – that she asked him how school was going for me, and he evidently told her, “I think she’s doing well…but I miss her.”

Both inside and out of the tech world, my dad was on my side: he’s the only member of my family who came to a high school swim meet, he went out of his way to see a truly dreadful school play I starred in, and he and my mom curtailed a conference and dashed down to my school to watch me give the talk I’ve been expanding on. I knew that no matter what I set my mind to, he’d have my back.

My dad made me feel like I could do anything, which was exactly what I needed to succeed as a woman in a male-dominated field. I am more grateful to him than I can say, and I only wish I’d taken the opportunity to let him know that while he was healthy. I miss him with every fiber of my being.


So now that we’ve gotten to know each other a little bit, here’s my master plan: NaNoWriMo is all about getting people who dream about writing a book to overcome inertia and just start, right? I don’t have a novel rattling around in my head, but I did have this domain name that I needed a catalyst to get off of the ground.  So…the goal is to get something posted every day for the rest of the month (although not things that add up to fifty thousand words, don’t worry!). I imagine a voice and clear idea about long-term posting schedule will emerge gradually, but in the mean time, in order to keep things organized, I’m going to expand on the talk I referred to in my first post.

Here’s the outline for the next four weeks, then:

  • why computer science has a place in the K-12 curriculum
  • why it’s not currently occupying that place, and
  • what to do about that

And here, in the form of a nifty infographic from Kodable, is a sneak peak at some of those things:

5 Reasons to Teach Kids to Code

Pleased to Make Your Acquaintance

Hello, the internet.

My name is Eileen. I’m a native Chicagoan (IMSA ’08) transplanted in Minnesota (St. Olaf ’13), and when I grow up, I want to teach middle school computer programming.

It took me a surprisingly long time to figure that out, all things considered: I’ve wanted to be a teacher for as long as I’ve known what a school was, and I read this book cover to cover until it was in tatters. But I didn’t realize until I was nearly done with a degree in computer science and a K-12 ESL license that I could combine these two lifelong loves – and not only that I could, but that it seemed clear that more people should.

That realization and subsequent research culminated in an opportunity to give a TED-style talk on the subject shortly before my graduation (available here; just scroll down to my name, and try not to judge my aggressively poor posture too hard). Whether you watch it or not, the core points to take away are these: CS ed matters because the fact that only 10% of schools offer sufficient early access to the future of lucrative careers is a profound injustice, and I believe the fear-based and defeatist language we use about technology has a more powerful effect than we realize.

Since then, I’ve gotten to contribute to curricular modules for teaching college students about parallel and distributed computing, to write and teach Scratch-based elementary school video game design camps, and to work on getting middle schoolers to see themselves as potential programmers and mathematicians. I’m now volunteering locally and finishing up syllabi for a handful of community ed classes, and this site exists to share  the things that I’m learning, trying, and thinking along the way. I hope you’ll join me in conversation – the point, after all, of diversifying the tech world is the richness of a breadth of perspectives, and a tech ed blog is no different.