Every once in a while you discover something that you can hardly believe exists. For me, that would be Processing. Spawned at M.I.T., Processing offers users a powerful way to create visual and sonic digital art. The fact that this is a free and open source project makes it an easy choice for supplementing a high school computer science curriculum. Visit the exhibition pages and you can easily see why my students and I are pretty excited about Processing.
Our school has always had a top notch visual and performing arts program. We also have a very diverse student population. In our district, we easily have the most minority students, English Language Learners (ELL), and students that qualify for free and/or reduced lunch. We have our challenges, certainly, but we also have one of the best kept secrets in our district: our school truly values the individual student and encourages students to think for themselves.
I've read the data on the miserable state of women in computer science. I think of that every day. I get praised for having a relatively large number of female students. I have also reached out to our Special Education department to encourage their students to take my classes. Being certified in ELL instruction, I am pretty much assured that all of our ELL students will take my classes. If you are serious about tacking the access and gender issues in computer science, you fight the battle daily.
Processing will help me fight the battle. I think of Joanna, in my intermediate programming class. She works her butt off learning Python, and still deals with syntax errors and bugs that have an annoying way of appearing just before she makes a breakthrough in her programming skills. When she does complete a program, her work paints the screen with a style and grace that is all her own. Still, I wonder if she would ever choose to do this "for fun."
So this weekend I am changing horses in midstream and developing some starter units using Processing. We will have to run it off flash drives for a while, as it is not installed in our lab, but I know it will be worth it.
I got a surprising email this week from a former student that I had lost track of. She wanted to tell me that she is now attending Carnegie Mellon University on a scholarship and has every intention to pursue a career in computer science. She wanted to thank me for teaching her how to program in a little computer club I used to run back when she was in the sixth grade. Suddenly all the stress and frustrations of teaching seemed insignificant. What more could I ever hope for than to have one of my students serving as a role model for women in computer science? I could die now and not be unhappy in my handful of accomplishments. :-)