• Suzanne Buchele teaches participants in the new program called Computer Technologies for Teachers.
    Suzanne Buchele teaches participants in the new program called Computer Technologies for Teachers.

Sixteen area high school math and science teachers are getting an opportunity to brush up on their computer science skills this summer thanks to a new program being offered at Southwestern University.

The two-week program called Computer Technologies for Teachers (CT4T) offers participants the opportunity to learn computer skills such as such as algorithmic design, Excel programming, HTML and Javascript programming, and an open source mathematical computation program called SAGE. All these skills are used in the so-called STEM fields (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics).

“Many math and science teachers have not had any classes in computer science because they got their degrees before the field really took off,” said Suzanne Buchele, associate professor of computer science at Southwestern.   

Buchele developed the curriculum for the new program and is teaching it along with two Southwestern computer science majors who are serving as teaching assistants – Jason Catron and Taylor Elkins. The program started Aug. 1 and runs through Aug. 12.

Buchele said teachers from Georgetown, Jarrell, Pflugerville and Salado are taking advantage of the new program, which is being funded by part of a $443,000 grant Southwestern received from the U.S. Department of Education in 2010. The grant enables participants to receive a small stipend.  

“Technology has never been my forte,” said Kimberly Worsham, who teaches chemistry at Georgetown High School. “Computers can be intimidating, which forces people out of the field.” Worsham said she herself dropped out of engineering because she didn’t enjoy the computer work. Although she learned some technology in college, she said she didn’t learn things that would be useful in the classroom. She said she decided to attend the program to change that.  

Buchele said she hopes the high school teachers will return to the classroom and encourage their students to take a computer science class – in college if not in high school.  

“If the students like it, they will then take the next class and perhaps even more classes,” Buchele said. “Even if they decide not to major in computer science, these tools will serve them well in whatever profession they choose.”

Buchele noted that enrollment in computer science classes at the high school and university level has been declining at the same time that demand for computer science professionals has been rising. “It may be helpful for students to see real ways in which computers can be used as tools in math and the sciences,” she said.  

In addition to teaching program participants computer science skills, Buchele is including short talks each day on subjects such as career opportunities for students who have degrees in information technology and the myths vs. realities of IT jobs. At a recent class, she told the teachers it is important to encourage women and minorities to go into computer science because diverse perspectives are needed to solve today’s complex problems.