November 10, 2017

Super Computers & Super Mario: Computer Science at GOA

Nina Robins ‘19

Room 302 is no longer filled with posters memorializing the Dust Bowl, Beowulf or classic literature. Instead, it is adorned by artifacts of a different kind: a 1983 Apple 2, a System 6 Macintosh and a Super Nintendo Entertainment System.
This change in decor is only one of several developments in GOA’s computer science program. While the curriculum is new, however, the introduction of computer science to GOA has been a goal for some time.
“Computer science has been something that’s been on the school’s mind,” Principal Mrs. Stodolski said. “We’re happy to have some computer programming to support the STEM and engineering work that goes on.”
Stodolski also emphasized the benefits of integrating computer science into GOA beyond gaining programming knowledge.  
“Skills like logic and reasoning, attention to detail, collaboration and working with other people, accuracy, those are all things that are very important for students to be able to do when they leave the school,” she said. “Computer programming seems like a great opportunity for them to work on it skillwise.”
All aspects of computer science have proven to be critical in today’s increasingly digital age.
“I have the sense that it’s going to be a core subject that every high school student is going to come across and be required to study in the near future,” Dr. Shira Kelmanovich said. “If Golda Och wants to keep up, we have to have a budding computer science program.”
Mr. Adam Michlin, the spearhead of GOA computer science, is keenly aware of the importance and utility of computer science in our society, namely in the form of computer security.
“You can’t open a newspaper without seeing one group or another getting hacked,” he said. “There is an industry right now that is begging and pleading for people who can help with that.
“So I do teach students how to break into computers, but what I’m really doing is teaching them how eventually work with our government to help protect people and infrastructure.”
The new computer science program provides many opportunities for students of all skill levels to explore their computer science potential. GOA has introduced several new coding clubs for both middle and high schoolers.
“Coding club is great because we generally don’t have time during the week to have in-depth discussions on computer science and programming,” junior Sophie Goldman said. “Being able to spend two hours a week doing that is something that was never possible before.”
In addition, the existing Girls Who Code club has undergone massive improvements. “I’m really excited that we’re branching out more in Girls Who Code this year,” Goldman said. “Right now, we’re learning to create websites with HTML.
“We're also going to have speakers from universities and tech fields visit to talk about women in computer science... I’m looking forward to seeing different possibilities for computer science careers.”
It is incredibly important to GOA that many students be inspired to pursue computer science. STEM students in particular, according to Dr. Kelmanovich, would benefit greatly from coding enrichment.
“We do have a little bit of computer coding in the STEM program, but just a little bit, and they do a little bit in robotics,” she said. “I think in order to enhance those experiences, though, you need a core computer science curriculum.
“STEM and computer science complement each other. They have different focuses, but being able to use both really rounds out a student.”
Michlin has employed his dated consoles – “part history lessons, part recruiting tools” – in order to encourage other students to learn computer science. He describes using classic video games with simple programming as a mechanism by which to teach computer science and other mathematical concepts.
“You have a student taking trigonometry in math class and they don’t want to do another problem. You take the same student and put them in a computer science class and tell them to make a video game,” he said.
“They’ll want to move their sprite in a circle and then proceed to spend the next three days mastering the trigonometry they need to perform that function.”
As expansive as computer science at GOA may be, Michlin’s goal is not to provide it as a standalone resource. While students marvel at the Room 302 consoles and toil over 2D programming, the academic benefits subconsciously reach far greater.

“The hope is that computer science will be permeating the curriculum, and not just be a curriculum unto itself.”

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