Technology Initiative Grant Profile: High School STEM Lab

Since its opening in the Fall of 2013, the High School STEM Lab has seen exponential growth in the number of students it serves.

“I took Honors Computer Science my senior year at AHS, and it greatly helped prepare me for a college level course! Although I’m learning a new programming language in my class, coming in knowing one language and the basic principles of coding has made my college course easy! Taking a class at AHS was what prompted me to continue taking Computer Science courses at Colgate! ” ~ Ali

– Arlington High School Computer Science Web site
– Arlington Advocate Nov. 14, 2013:  AEF Makes AHS STEM Lab Possible

 AHS STEM Lab AHS STEM Lab6 AHS STEM Lab3 Guitar Hero

October 2013

AEF and the Arlington Public Schools have partnered to fund a new STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering & Mathematics) Lab at the Arlington High School.  As a result, this year Arlington High School is able to offer two computer programming classes – the first classes in computer science at the High School in at least 4 years.

The new lab is not only equipped with 25 new laptops and a built in projector, but also has a set of iPads for app development and group work.  All the equipment is available on carts so they can be used by other teachers in math and sciences throughout the day, making this a true STEM lab.  While AEF paid for the equipment, the Arlington Public Schools hired new staff.  Dan Sheldon is an experienced teacher and programmer (and an AHS grad and Brackett parent), and is refurbishing the room, including rewiring, stronger wifi, and movable tables.

Arlington’s Mathematics Director Matt Coleman is well on the way to his goal of offering every High School student 4 years of math.  In addition to core math classes in Geometry and Algebra, Coleman wants to offer a variety of math ‘pathways’.  Rather than offer just traditional Calculus as an advanced math option, Coleman’s department now offers CAD, AP Statistics and Computer Programming.   Not only does this variety enable students to choose the math course that fits their needs, but it  also gives students more practical skills to ready them for careers in an increasingly technological world.

In the introductory computer programming class, students are using a Java-like program to create their own version of the popular Wii game ‘Guitar Hero’.  Later in the year, they will explore robotics and app design, while covering the basic principles of computer science.  The advanced class offers more individualized instruction to meet the needs of students with some computer science experience.  One student is even taking it at the AP level.

The AHS STEM lab is the first project funded by AEF as part of a new AEF Technology Initiative to help fund the acceleration of the district’s Technology Plan and the innovations that can enhance learning, provide new avenues for creativity, and give Arlington students the skills they need to join the next wave of technology entrepreneurs.  AEF is working hand in hand with Dr. Laura Chesson, Assistant Superintendent, who is implementing the technology plan for the district.


Excerpt from Superintendent’s November 2014 Newsletter

Strong Computer Science Curriculum Now Offered at Ottoson and Arlington High School

Last year, with funding help from the Arlington Education Foundation (AEF), we were able to upgrade the AHS STEM Lab and offer the first computer science classes available in the district in four years. This curriculum is continuing, with more students involved than ever before. This year we received additional funding from AEF and we turned our attention to the Ottoson. We added equipment for our sixth graders and are offering an exciting Computer Science (CS) curriculum there.

In the new sixth grade class, Digital Media & Literacy, 300 students receive a full year of Computer Science.  The curriculum does more than just teach students to code.  Broader and deeper concepts such as decomposition, pattern recognition, algorithmic thinking and the engineering life cycle are also included.

Terry Dash, the leader at Ottoson who comes to us after a 25-year career in information systems, hopes that the stuents will apply programming skills to answer questions.  There are plans to include cross-curricular problems that require “hands-on’ approaches to appeal to a wide range of students, especially girls.  The class is exploring forensic mysteries that can be solved by applying algorithms and procedures, as well as ways to create interactive work.

The goal is to use projects like these to engage the students’ imaginations and encourage them to continue in Computer Science in high school and beyond.

At AHS, we are offering three levels of Computer Science.  The introductory course, Exploring Computer Science (ECS), focuses on human-computer interactions, problem solving, website development, programming, data analysis and robotics.  Honors Computer Science is the next level of study, reinforcing the concepts taught in ECS with a focus on programming and learning Java.  Those students wishing to continue their studies can take AP Java. Participants finishing this course take the AP exam, and with a score of three to five can earn college credit depending upon the college.

Our students are increasingly responding to these offerings. Last year there were 22 students in the program, and the classes were only recommended for juniors and seniors. This year, all levels are encouraged to take Computer Science and there are over 60 students participating.

Dan Sheldon, a graduate of AHS who holds a BS and MA in Computer Science and Mechanical Engineering from MIT, leads the program. He believes that these classes benefit all those who to go on to pursue advanced education. Since computers are being used in many fields, it is Mr. Sheldon’s opinion that those who understand computers at a more fundamental level have an advantage. He also believes that it is easy for young people to get discouraged in their first college-level computer science (CS) classes if they do not have high school experience. Being able to take CS classes in high school was instrumental to his success in the field in college. Computer scientists and programmers are in high demand in all industries, and with high school preparation, Mr. Sheldon hopes more students will continue in the field.

In addition to the CS courses, there is a Computer Team that competes in the American Computer Science League.  Mr. Sheldon hopes to expand computer science opportunities further by taking on some civic technology projects, working with the Town or Arlington Public Schools to develop needed programs.  He is also planning a new AP class called CS Principles. AHS will be one of the first schools to offer this new course.

We are delighted to be able to provide these classes to our young people, and to have a talented group of experienced professionals designing curriculum and teaching our students.  At AHS, Mr. Sheldon is joined by Allison Schubert, who teaches ECS.  At Ottoson, Johanna Bradley and Sara Toutounjian teach Digital Media & Literacy along with Ms. Dash.  I want to thank all of them for the high quality courses they are bringing to our students, and also thank AEF for the support that has made these classes possible.

Excerpt from Superintendent’s November 2013 Newsletter

Computer Science Returns to AHS Thanks to AEF Technology Grant and Upgraded STEM Lab

According to a November 26 article in The Boston Globe, over 700 students have enrolled in one of the hottest classes on the Harvard campus this year–Introductory Computer Science. I am happy to report that AHS students who choose to do so will be more than ready to pursue this topic after graduation. Thanks to a $50,000 grant from the Arlington Education Foundation (AEF), computer science is now available as an elective. Working in the new STEM lab, our students are learning skills they will use to pass computer science Advance Placement tests and then go on to pursue technology degrees.

The introductory and advanced computer science courses are the first ones offered by the district in four years. Students are recognizing the opportunities that such classes offer them, and over 30 students have enrolled–one at the AP level. Computer-assisted design and AP statistics are also offered this year as part of an effort to reinvigorate mathematics.

The new courses are part of our work to infuse technology throughout the district and prepare students for the workforce. On November 14, the Arlington Advocate reported that 70% of jobs will have a high tech component by 2020. To help us provide the educational opportunities our young people need in order to be successful in the future, AEF has embarked on a three-year fundraising effort dubbed the Technology Initiative.

We are grateful to AEF for aggressively pursuing the advancement of technology for our young people.

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