Popularity of Computer Science Fuels WT Expansion: A Department is Born
Posted 10/10/2013 07:42AM

David Nassar can envision a day when WT’s Pre-Kindergarten students are figuring out how to do a large project by breaking it down into smaller tasks, and using logic to clearly communicate all the individual steps to completion. That day just got closer.

Winchester Thurston is pleased to announce the creation of a Computer Science Department. David Nassar, Upper School Computer Science, Science, and Math Teacher, has been named Department Chair.

“There’s been a lot of momentum building in the school for computer science,” explains Gary J. Niels, Head of School. “We want to build on the outstanding leadership of people like Dave Nassar and John Charney (Assistant Head for Operations), and create a curriculum for the whole school, Pre-K through grade 12.”

WT has been offering a comprehensive computer science program in the Upper School for several years; five courses include AP Computer Science, and Computer Science Innovations, a yearlong post-AP course that has students creating in-depth projects. A number of electives are offered in the Middle School, including 3D Programming, Virtual Robotics, Arduino Programming, Minecraft, and more.

The vision for the new department is to build upon the current program and create a far-reaching study of technology.

“This is different from technology integration,” Nassar explains. “It’s not just using a tablet in the classroom or making a presentation in Power Point. Computer Science is the study of how things are computed, optimized, and formalized into a process that a digital device can take to task. We are getting students to think in a way that allows them to program a machine, or speak to a programmer, no matter what course of study or career path they choose in the future.”

Nassar, in his fifth year at WT, has seen increased interest in computer science coursework each trimester. He’s also focused on computer science integration in other classes, from research science and math to robotics and even working with an installation artist.

“I am looking forward to getting more students involved,” Nassar said. “This isn’t about making everyone a programmer, but since the world is becoming more digital, I want to get every student to understand what’s feasible. If you understand what’s possible, then you can incorporate that into your work.”

Of the genesis of the department, Niels adds, “Technology should no longer be an ‘elective’ for a small number of students. Programming encompasses a set of skills that young people need. It’s a skill set I want all our students to graduate with, so we began thinking about a curriculum, a progression of computer science courses, and thinking with technology.”

Last year, Niels, Nassar, and Charney attended OESIS, the Online Education Symposium for Independent Schools, along with a few hundred other independent school educators from around the U.S. During that experience, the idea began to formulate as the trio began conversations about computational thinking, programming, and the skills WT graduates would ideally have. Then, last spring, Niels attended the Upper School’s student symposium on Math, Science, and Technology, and was awed by the level of sophistication demonstrated in computer science students’ projects, from their innovative ideas, to their critical and analytical thinking, to the intricacies of their designs, to the technical mastery demonstrated in the programming. “WT must continually evaluate where our students are and whether we’re challenging them,” Niels reflects.

As Nassar and team begin to analyze and envision what WT’s Computer Science department will look like, Niels is confident the process is in the right hands.

“Not only does Dave have the training and knowledge,” Niels said of Nassar’s leadership in developing WT’s Mobile App Lab. “He’s also a terrific teacher. He can convey his enthusiasm to kids and communicate his knowledge in a way that’s engaging.“

“I am so proud of my students,” Nassar added. “It’s exciting to be building innovators here at WT.”