Computer Science Spreads Across Western Pennsylvania

61 Pittsburgh-area teachers traveled to Phoenix, Arizona to code, debug, and gear up to teach computer science this coming fall

Despite record breaking temperatures of 120 degrees outside and long travel itineraries for many, excitement was palpable as nearly 600 teachers from around the country collectively entered the ballroom of the the Sheraton Grand hotel in Phoenix, Arizona, officially kicking off’s TeacherCon, an intensive, hands-on workshop to build capacity of educators gearing up to teach Computer Science Discoveries and Computer Science Principles held during the last week of July.

Through a regional partnership with the Allegheny Intermediate Unit, 61 teachers from western Pennsylvania were among those in attendance, dedicating a week of their summer to prepare teaching computer science at the middle and high school levels this coming fall. Beyond delving into the’s curricula, western Pennsylvania teachers spent the week strategic planning, preparing instructional units, and most importantly, building a community of practitioners, all of whom will play integral roles in expanding computer science opportunities within their districts.

Western PA Cohort Members During Community Building Event at Phoenix Art Museum

Western PA Cohort Members During Community Building Event at Phoenix Art Museum

Lead Learner’s free K-12 curriculum—which contains a combination of digital and “unplugged” learning experiences—promotes a variety of instructional strategies with an overarching goal of constructing equitable and engaging learning environments. One such strategy termed “lead learner” proved paramount to the TeacherCon experience, shifting the role of instructors from the sole source of knowledge to being the leader in seeking it. The lead learner’s mantra, according to, is “I may not know the answer, but I know that together we can figure out.” The lead learner strategy, as many at TeacherCon pointed out, is a particularly empowering instructional approach when teaching computer science, as it is a field that changes continuously with advancements in technology and computing.

Although assuming a lead learner role may have initially seemed unconventional to some attending TeacherCon, the week provided many opportunities for participants to experience this pedagogical approach as both a teacher and learner through “TLO” lessons.

At TeacherCon, a TLO—an acronym for teacher-learner-observer—consisted of a group of 3-4 teachers planning and facilitating a lesson from the curriculum to 25-30 learners. When assuming the learner role, participants are tasked to temporarily take off their “teacher hats” and focus instead on how they interact with content for the first time. Upon completion of a lesson, teachers and learners engage in observational discussions in separate locations. Where the former focus on pedagogical choices, advice they would give to other teachers, and overarching takeaways, the latter discuss areas of highest engagement and points of confusion. TLOs conclude with both teachers and learners convening to share with one another the most salient points. Ending in candid discussion, TLOs not only provide teachers an opportunity to prepare and facilitate lessons from a new curriculum, but also provide invaluable insights into lessons from a  learner’s perspective.

A Uniquely Diverse Community of Educators

Dedicated to expanding access to computer science in schools, supports a vision that every student in every school should have the opportunity to learn computer science. Inspired by this vision, the inaugural western Pennsylvania cohort is uniquely diverse by design, intentionally bringing together educators who teach in radically different school environments.

Amongst the cohort are teachers from districts tiny to large, representing rural districts consisting of a single K-12 building, as well as Pittsburgh Public Schools, the second largest district in the Commonwealth. Also represented are charter and parochial schools, as well as teachers practicing in non-traditional academic settings, including the Allegheny Intermediate Unit’s schools for exceptional children and two separate residential facilities, serving court adjudicated youth and students in residential therapeutic treatment.

Expanding Computer Science Across Pennsylvania

Pennsylvania has 19,129 open computing jobs, nearly four times the state average demand rate. With an average salary of $85,654, according to, these existing open jobs represent a $1,638,475,366 opportunity in terms of annual salaries. Great strides have been made in the last two years to prepare students in Pennsylvania for jobs in the digital economy.

In December of 2017, Governor Tom Wolf joined the bipartisan Governor’s’ Partnership for K-12 Computer Science, a national coalition committed to increasing access and funding for computer science in K-12 schools, stating, “We must do more to make computer science education available in our schools and prepare our children for these highest-paying, fastest-growing jobs in the country and bring new opportunities to the commonwealth.”

Early this year, the State Board of Education endorsed the Computer Science Teachers Association (CSTA) standards, as well as convened a working group around teacher certification for computer science. In June, the Pennsylvania Department of Education hosted the Computer Science for All Summit, a 3-day conference in Harrisburg to offer educators, school leaders, and stakeholders the opportunity to expand their knowledge and skillset so they can support and provide students with computer science experiences.
To fund statewide efforts, Governor Wolf has committed $20 million to support computer science education across the Commonwealth as part of the PAsmart Initiative.

Ongoing Supports for Teachers

For the 61 regional teachers who traveled to Phoenix, participation in TeacherCon was simply the first of an array of supports that will be made available to them in the upcoming year as they teach the courses for the first time. Cohort members will build upon what they learned at TeacherCon during quarterly workshops hosted both at the Allegheny Intermediate Unit and the Northwest Tri-County Intermediate Unit, located in Edinboro, PA. Occuring at key points in the course, these workshops will provide instructional supports as well as an opportunity for the cohort members share best practices. Cohort members will additionally become part of a virtual community of teachers from around the world teaching’s secondary courses.

To further support districts in K-12 computer science implementation, the Allegheny Intermediate Unit and Delaware County Intermediate Unit, the regional partner for eastern Pennsylvania, will host 1-day workshops for elementary teachers at various locations throughout Pennsylvania, as well as offer strategic planning sessions for administrators and school counselors.

For more information on opportunities in western Pennsylvania, contact Tyler Samstag at

Published August 29, 2018

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