Computer science and math teacher Laurel Dilley, right, gets the attention of her students in computer science class as Green Bank Observatory computer scientist Ray Creager, at the end of the table, prepares to tell the students about the CPU Raspberry Pi which is an inexpensive computer loaded with programs used in computer science programming. S. Stewart photo
Computer science and math teacher Laurel Dilley, right, gets the attention of her students in computer science class as Green Bank Observatory computer scientist Ray Creager, at the end of the table, prepares to tell the students about the CPU Raspberry Pi which is an inexpensive computer loaded with programs used in computer science programming. S. Stewart photo

Suzanne Stewart
Staff Writer

Computer science may have just been added to the curriculum at Pocahontas County High School last year, but it has already made a huge impact on the students and teacher involved.

Last week, five students who haven’t even taken the class were recognized for their achievement in creating a community assisting app for the Verizon Innovative Learning App Challenge.

Computer science and math teacher Laurel Dilley turned the students on to the challenge and made it a required project for the students in her CS class.

Two teams submitted apps to the challenge and a third created an idea but missed the deadline.

Hearing the students talk about their app ideas, it’s obvious computer science is making a difference in their education.

A group consisting of Jake Faris, Brady Jones, Colton Massey, Taylor Tegtmeyer, Kyle Lester, Anthony Jaggy and Jordan Nutter created V-Do, an app which allows a student to attend class from home – whether they are sick, homebound due to weather or for any number of reasons.

“What we decided to do was create an online virtual education class where the students can directly connect to their teachers so that the class can still continue despite there being an impedance to the school,” Faris said.

The app would allow students to feel as if they are in the classroom and they could communicate in real time with the teacher and classmates.

“They’d have an in-class experience like virtual reality, and you could look around the room and be more like in the classroom instead of just going on a website and typing stuff,” Lester said. “They could actually listen to the teacher and take notes.”

“It’s kind of like you were right there in the classroom from your bedroom,” Jones added.

The second group to submit an app included Allie Burns, Kayla Gibson, Carlie Ervine, Romina Gonzalez, Cheyenna Champbell and Josey Faris.

The young ladies created an app which would allow individuals to see what is in stock at local stores, shop for what they needed and have the groceries delivered.

“I was thinking of people who can’t get out – like elderly people,” Gibson said.

Ervine added that if the app was implemented, it would create more jobs locally because the stores would have to hire someone to deliver the goods.

The third group – Brandon Wilfong, Nicholas Wyatt, Nathan Morrison and Ryan Puffenbarger – designed an app which would help students with homework by connecting them to classmates through chat.

The students were all enthusiastic about their apps and a little disappointed they didn’t win, but that didn’t dampen their spirits too much. They are still very excited about what they are learning in computer science class and what it will lead to in the future.

Several of the students said they initially took the class because it fit their schedule, but once the class started, they were glad they took it.

“For me, it started out – College English is a split block and this was the other half of my split block,” Jones said. “It was just a class that was open, but it turned out, this is probably my favorite class of the day.”

“I first took it because I didn’t have another class to take,” Burns admitted. “I’m really glad I did because I’m learning a lot. It’s made an impact on me.”

Some students needed more of a push from their teacher.

“I took it because Mrs. Dilley made me,” Gibson said, laughing. “I really didn’t want another math class because I’m going to graduate with eight math credits, now nine. It’s really not like math at all. [Now] I’m minoring in computer science and majoring in biomedical engineering.”

After experiencing computer science and learning the programs involved, many of the students said they plan to at least minor in the subject when they attend college.

“I want to major in some type of engineering, but I’m definitely going to minor in computer science no matter what I’m doing,” Nutter said.

“I always loved computers, so when the opportunity came up, I took it because I’ve always wanted to major in computer science in college,” Puffenbarger said.

With all the buzz about technology and the things students learn, computer science has become a coveted class for younger students.

Josey Faris said she is not in the class yet, but after working on the app with her group, she plans to take the class next year.

“It’s become really popular in the school,” Gibson said. “Other kids are probably going to take it next year because we’ve made it exciting, and they see us do stuff.”

While the students are excited about the class, right now it is just one class – Computer Science 1. Several of the underclassmen wish they had a chance to take CS2 of a higher level.

They also suggested the class begin with an introduction to computer science before diving into the nuts and bolts of programming.

“I think they should kind of make an intro to it and have how it works and then the next class is whenever they start teaching the code,” Ervine said. “It’s just kind of like we’re jumping back and forth between easy and hard things.”

Gibson added that she feels computer science should be a CTE [Career and Technical Education] class, giving students a chance to be completers in the field.

Because the class is new and Dilley didn’t consider herself fully qualified to teach computer science, the school has been fortunate to have assistance from the Green Bank Observatory. Several GBO computer scientists helped get the class started and one in particular – Ray Creager – visits the class each Friday to work with the students and Dilley.

“It’s good to have someone who is very knowledgable on the subject coming in to tutor you,” Jake Faris said. “Everything he says is very useful. It gives us kind of a gauge of what computer scientists have to do in their jobs.”

Along with teaching the students about programs like Scratch and Python, and CPUs like Raspberry Pi, Creager is also teaching Dilley, which reminds the students that you never stop learning.

“Mrs. Dilley is being taught with us,” Gibson said. “To have a professional come in is great. He’s helping her, too. As he helps her, he helps us.”

“He’s self-taught, also, so it’s cool,” Ervine said.

“He understands our mistakes,” Gibson added.

“He’ll say, ‘oh I’ve done that, too, go back and do this,’” Ervine said.

“And having Mrs. Dilley learn with us, she understands our mistakes because she made them the night before,” Gibson continued.

The students haven’t visited Creager in his office at the observatory, but he still manages to show them what it’s like to implement computer science in a real world setting.

“He’s learned a lot of things through experience – trial and error – and he can teach us and help us,” Morrison said. 

“We learned stuff from the school standpoint, but he teaches us from the work standpoint – actually in the field and how he uses it,” Wilfong added.

Whether they started the class enthusiastically or begrudgingly, the students are all now proponents of computer science.

“I don’t know if it should be a required class, but I feel like more people should take it because it prepares you for the future,” Ervine said.

Suzanne Stewart may be contacted at sastewart@pocahontastimes.com