CSTA Equity Fellow Jennifer Styer believes that if everyone learns computer science, the world will be a better place.
CSTA Equity Fellow Jennifer Styer believes that if everyone learns computer science, the world will be a better place. She has been teaching high school STEAM classes in Bellingham, Washington, for more than 18 years and intertwines art and creativity with technology to assist her students in solving problems.
For Styer, equity in teaching means that all students have an equal opportunity to succeed in her class. “From the first day of class, I tell my students that CS needs their diversity,” shared Styer. “The people developing technology need to be as diverse as everyone who uses the technology.”
To ensure all students are successful in her classroom, Styer focuses on individual needs. “For years, I have tried to create a classroom that is better for all students, but that is not enough,” said Styer. “When one of my volunteers or I find someone who needs more help to succeed, it often involves one-on-one tutoring and extra video instructions to meet the students where they are at and assure them that they belong.”
According to Styer, equity starts with getting the students into her classes. She’s received multiple grants to increase diversity in her classes. “The grant that impacted the most people was a robotics grant that funded the creation of the Creators and Innovators Club for girls,” shared Styer. It was an after-school club that combined technology, creativity, middle school girls, and women in technology. The turnout was amazing; we gave about 200 girls the jump start they needed to give them confidence in high school technology classes and clubs.”
Styer is passionate about including all students in her classroom. Following SIOP training, she updated her curriculum with her district English Language Learning Specialist. She also has her face in all videos, pares down her writing, and includes many visuals. In addition, all of her lessons are posted online. “Last year, I embraced three life skills students in my Intro CS course with a classroom aid and modified curriculum,” shared Styer. “It was awesome to see their success and enthusiasm with programming. All three were also able to come with me to the CS Fair at Microsoft.”
“The year before, I focused on cultivating a diverse set of peer tutors who helped students one-on-one, ran machines, and created tutorial videos,” continued Styer. “This included two girls and two members of the LGBTQ+ community. Diverse student leaders encourage more diverse students in my classes. I had four CS volunteers for my classes. Both of my college volunteers were nontraditional CS students, one is gay, and the other is female. I recently learned that the CS community has traditionally sheltered closeted gay and transgender students. Students feel comfortable coming out as themselves in my CS classes and recruiting their peers. I use a variety of teaching techniques including connecting their interests to CS, pair-programming, blogging, games with prizes, and hands-on projects.”
Styer is continually expanding her knowledge and implementing new ideas into her classroom to increase equity. For example, she completed a Tapestry workshop that focuses on teaching CS in a way that reaches all students regardless of sex or ethnicity. As a result, Styer made changes to improve equitable access and achievement in her technology classes. Most notably, she implemented pair programming, iterative open-ended projects, and bunnies in the classroom.
Styer also became the advisor for our new FBLA chapter, a primarily female organization where her students compete in a variety of technology-related events. “I have seen results including far more success for all students,” shared Styer. “Last semester, out of about 150 students, I only had one student who did not complete my class and two who stopped attending. I have had several transgender students in my classes, including two in my Video Game Design last semester. That class also had six girls. Which may not seem like a lot until compared with the other two schools in the district that only had one girl in each class.”
In her time as a CSTA Equity Fellow, Styer hopes to put together a clearinghouse for best practices and then make suggestions to curriculum creators about how to improve their lesson plans. “I have participated in professional development for all the curriculums mentioned above, and they all try to address the issue of equity in their own ways,” shared Styer, “Unfortunately, CS has not had the time to embrace a lot of teacher feedback and there aren’t a lot of CS equity leaders.”
“I expect the challenge of working nationally with the other fellows and developing teacher leadership in CS equity this year will be game-changing. I want to be the CS equity teacher leader who others turn to when they are looking to improve CS education.”
Learn more about the CSTA Equity Fellowship and this year’s cohort here.