Doug Bergman – Discovering a Love for the Classroom…in Japan
I have been the head of the computer science (CS) department and a high school computer science teacher since 2011 at Porter-Gaud School in Charleston, SC. It is an independent K-12 school with about 1000 students.
I was always good with computers. My father and I used to explore personal computers and programming all the time – even typing in pages of hexadecimal code for hours in order to play games.
I remember my Commodore VIC-20. As I went through high school, studying technology just seemed like the logical choice for college. After college, I entered the business world, but quickly found myself unable to sit behind a desk all day. So, I found my way to Japan teaching ESL English for several years. That was where I found I enjoyed being in the classroom.
Upon my return, I merged my love of technology and education and became a computer science teacher. I was not exactly sure how to lead a CS class (and not many schools were doing it, so I had no help). I just started having the students do cool projects that allowed them to learn to program. It seemed to work well. That philosophy continues in my classroom today, after 25 years in teaching.
I noticed one special thing when comparing a career in business vs education. Schools stop to smell the roses all year long. They celebrate every holiday, season and event as a part of what they do. In business, sometimes the days just fly by. You wake up and years have gone by and you don’t even know what month it is.
Following My Heroes
Lou Zulli showed me how to ignore the status quo and do what needs to be done in the classroom – in the way it needs to be done. Chris Proctor inspired me early on to develop the CS program which we have today. Dr. Chris Starr helped me and my buddy Phil Zaubi develop the framework for our curriculum and how to take it to the national and international levels.
The Microsoft Innovative Educator program has been such an incredible source of world class educators with whom I interact with almost daily. Educators who like to push the envelop are sometimes in silos – these connections with like-minded peers are crucial.
The Future in EdTech
Finally, we are seeing more diversity in the CS classroom. Not just gender, race and religion, but also diversity in ideas, interests, and passions. We are also seeing technologies, which might at one time have been inaccessible to the general public, suddenly become mainstream (i.e. VR headsets and robots). Now students can actually code their own games, apps or websites.
Skills for the Future
To succeed, students need skills like creativity, working together with others to figure stuff out, not being afraid to explore something unknown (like a new gadget or device), not being afraid to fail, mess up or make mistakes. All of this supports those who embrace technology, get technology, and get how it can be used to address and solve the problems in our world. Learn a programming language, any one of them. That allows you to be part of life, instead of watching it fly by.
Throughout our entire program, we are exploring new technologies, new languages and new types of projects. Our students learn Python by coding several hundred lines of code to implement their own game. They create apps that address the needs of people with physical, emotional, psychological or learning disabilities. They learn to code autonomous vehicles using robots with sensors and motors. They build their own websites. They create software for their MACS or iPad . They learn cybersecurity and how to defend an online attack. Our capstone project enables them to use C++ to program drones – 100% project based, student-centered. In our middle school, they use Raspberry Pi, Lego Mindstorm, Microbit, Dash, Kodu, and Scratch. Our lower school uses Lego We-do, Scratch Jr, Hopscotch, Dash, Google Expedition Hour of Code, Code.org curriculum and even Alice.
Passing It On
Considering technology as your career? Be open minded so you don’t limit what you or your technology can do. Embrace the fact that technology changes all the time, so yes you will need to keep current. Look for ways to use the technology that you have differently. Be willing to dive deep into the technologies that are interesting to you. Take it apart, upgrade it, fix it, re-purpose it. Figure out what makes it tick, how to command it, and how to use it to help you do something better or make the world a better place.
Don’t ever forget this: Computer Science is NOT about the technology. It is about using the technology to ultimately help people.
Doug Bergman is the Computer Science Department Chair at Porter-Gaud School in Charleston, SC. He is an IT-oLogy Tech Hero!
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