Sharing the Joy of Learning
Every time Tom Dale '19 entered Shadle Park High School in Spokane to help teach computer science, the students' faces lit up. The Whitworth triple major in computer science, math and applied physics had a lot to teach them. He also knew how to grab their attention, giving short lessons on subjects such as cybersecurity in social media, computer graphics in art, and even distributed systems through the lens of Fortnite, a popular video game.
"I had huge freedom to talk about whatever sidetracks the students wanted," Dale says, "and once a semester I prepared my own hourlong lecture."
Dale volunteered through Whitworth's CS Outreach course. The popular elective places computer science students in local high schools and middle schools to assist in CS classrooms. Whitworth Professor of Math & Computer Science Pete Tucker '91 says this helps meet a vital need in the community; like much of the nation, the area has a short supply of K-12 teachers with backgrounds in computer science.
At the same time, Whitworth students benefit from teaching what they've learned. Since Tucker formed the course four years ago, Whitworth students have served in classrooms at 15 local schools.
"I've had a number of students tell me that they gained a better understanding of foundational programming concepts because they had to teach them to someone else," Tucker says.
That was the case for Dale, who quickly realized he loved sharing his knowledge in the classroom. "I've learned to explain complicated technology to students," he says, "and this has caused me to have to strengthen the base of my own understanding."
Dale liked his experience so much that he took CS Outreach for two semesters and volunteered on his own at the high school last spring.
"I loved the effects CS Outreach had on me and Shadle Park," he says. "This program is so important. It has bettered my own communication skills and has helped dozens of students to understand the joy of learning computer science."
Tucker hopes that by seeing the difference they're making in schools, Whitworth students will be inspired to continue sharing their knowledge in the future.
"One of the most important things students learn from this experience is that they can use their skills in service, and not just in building software," he says. "This sort of learning can really only happen outside of the classroom."