Cypress Woods teacher promotes computer careers
Stacey Armstrong knows how his students at Cypress Woods High School perceive careers in computer science at times.
"Students think they'll be locked in a basement, drinking Jolt soda and eating cold pizza," the 40-year-old Fairfield resident said.
Armstrong has made it a priority to show his students the rewards associated with computer science and to encourage female students - who are outnumbered by males in his Advanced Placement computer science courses - to consider the benefits of tackling technology.
"I try to show students the way computer science skills apply to the world in general," he said. "In all of the disciplines and careers you go into, the skills we teach are very beneficial."
Armstrong is among 30 educators nationwide selected to receive the National Center for Women & Information Technology's Aspirations in Computing Educator Award in February.
The award recognizes teachers for supporting young women's participation in computing and technology.
Each recipient receives up to $1,000 for professional development related to computing education.
"It's a great honor," Armstrong said. "It's cool they're taking the time to honor those of us who are trying to make computer science more inclusive.
"We need to broaden participation because these skills are important to everybody."
Nationally, participation in Advanced Placement Computer Science courses is similar to what Armstrong is seeing at Cy-Woods.
While girls make up 47 percent of those who take the AP test for college credit in calculus and more than half of AP test takers overall, only 18 percent of those who take the AP Computer Science test are girls, NCWIT reports.
"Girls don't find the discipline very social," Armstrong said. "They think this career path isn't for them. NCWIT is trying really hard to reverse that trend."
And, Armstrong is complementing those efforts.
As a member of the Association for Computing Machinery's Education Policy Committee, he strives to ensure computer science curriculum is identified as an educational priority.
Through his role as a Texas cohort leader for the Computer Science Teachers Association, Armstrong helps create and support local CSTA chapters. Ultimately, the group promotes computer science education.
Armstrong also serves on the AP Computer Science Principles Commission, which is developing a new AP Computer Science course that could broaden participation.
"We're trying to show kids more of the cool things they can do with computer science besides writing code," he said.
The Human Genome Project, for instance, has been advanced by the role of super computers and speed, he said. "Speed and hardware have allowed scientists to see some pretty significant breakthroughs in recent years."
There is a creative aspect to computer science as well, Armstrong said.
"It's cool to say, I'm going to do this, work on it for two or three weeks and see on screen, it actually works," he said. "You had an idea, and you breathed life into it."
Armstrong consistently is passionate about his subject matter, and about helping students succeed, said Monica Canestaro-Darby, whose 19-year-old son, Matt Darby, was a student of Armstrong's.
Canestaro-Darby continues to work with Armstrong as a volunteer in support of his role as Cy-Wood's University Interscholastic League coordinator.
Not only does he encourage students, she said, he gives students a friendly nudge in the right direction when necessary.
"He opens doors and pushes them through."
Armstrong also launched Friday morning Breakfast of Champions sessions in his room, to support UIL participants and provide them with prep materials for competitions.
"Our students are academic athletes," Canestaro-Darby said. "This is a little pep rally for them.
"Mr. Armstrong constantly disproves the myth that nerds aren't cool."
Armstrong and his wife, Kelley, have three sons, Sam, 9; Ben, 7; and Will, 7 months.
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