Did you know that fewer than 39% of high schools in California offer computer sciences courses to their students, and two-thirds lack any computer sciences courses at all? Yet computer science thrives at Coronado High School, where more than 150 students are currently enrolled in one of four sections taught by Tara Haslam.
Selected as a Kato Family Innovation in Education Award recipient, Tara teaches three periods of AP Computer Science Principles this year, along with one period of the more advanced AP Java for older students and the new Adulting 101 class. Only 5% of high schools in California offer AP Computer Science Principles, a college-level course that introduces students to concepts of the field and challenges them to explore how computing and technology can impact the world.
Coronado Schools Foundation (CSF) funds not only the computer science classes and robotics team at CHS (for which Tara serves as the advisor), but also the foundational Introduction to Coding and Coding classes and robotics program thriving at Coronado Middle School. These are integral to the STEM and Arts Pathway programs funded by CSF, available to every student enrolled in the Coronado Unified School District, where STEM and Art instruction begins in the elementary grades.
A 22-year veteran of public education, Tara came to CUSD in the fall of 2019, and has been teaching at CHS the past two years. However, Tara took a circuitous route to this, her passion and vocation. Graduating from Brigham Young University with a major in English and minor in business, she set her sights on teaching language arts and literature. Recognizing the need for business education teachers, she transitioned and became Career and Technical Education (CTE) certified and launched her career teaching middle school students.
“I love what I do,” Tara readily affirms. “I love being a teacher. I love interacting with the students; and especially with the courses I teach, these are life skills that students will remember forever.”
Tara confides that transitioning from in-person classroom instruction posed its difficulties at the outset. “All of my classes are really meant to be hands-on, in-person classes,” Tara notes. Undaunted by the challenge, she spent the summer taking professional development courses and delving deeply into her classroom curriculum.
While pivoting to distance learning, Tara adapted part of her curriculum, and changed the sequence of units to better accommodate the virtual environment. “I also wanted to make sure that I would adequately be able to assess my students’ learning and help them even though I wouldn’t be able to see them in person,” she explains.
“It’s hard with distance learning to get students to participate, especially on Zoom,” she continues. “When you’re in person, there’s so much more communicating and students sharing with one another.” That’s why one of her greatest challenges is knowing when students might need help.
Project Lead the Way is the primary curriculum she employs in her classroom to teach computer science principles. Project Lead the Way is the curriculum that CHS funds to provide enriching instruction not only in computer science at the high school, but also in the virtual iLabs (Innovation Labs) for all students at both Village and Silver Strand Elementary Schools.
Along with the Project Lead the Way curriculum, Tara employs CodeHS, a unique program she researched that allows her to access virtually each student’s progress. With this technology, Tara sees in real-time exactly the work each student is doing during the class period. “If they can’t get something to work, I just login alongside them then and there to help them,” she explains. “It’s really just like being with them in the classroom.”
Her advice to students engaged in distance learning is to communicate openly with their instructors. “Teachers aren’t going to know you need help unless you tell them, especially in distance learning,” she stresses.
Looking to the future, she is optimistic about schools reopening sometime next semester. “I would love to see my students in person, but I also want everyone to be safe,” she notes. “It’s been hard that way, but we’re adapting.”
“We are grateful to Coronado Schools Foundation for providing the funding that allows our students to take these enriching computer science courses as early as middle school and certainly in high school,” notes Superintendent Karl Mueller. “Our students are so fortunate to have such an innovative teacher as Tara Haslam who has brought her curriculum ‘to life’ while adapting so seamlessly to distance learning.”