Sophomore Tomontae is waving around a sheet of paper about binary coding and talking excitedly about how it works and why it’s important. A series of seemingly random ones and zeroes actually unlocks a secret language.
“NASA used binary bode, because it’s the simplest code you can use,” he explains.
His classmate, Chioma adds, “I liked talking to NASA, we got to see different pictures of outer space. They also explained how the computers in outer space work, that they work in binary codes and send that back to planet Earth where they get translated into regular letters. There’s a number for lowercase ‘a’ and a number for uppercase ‘A’.”
Tomontae and Chioma’s AP Computer Science class recently went on a virtual field trip to see NASA’s Chandra X-ray Observatory and talked live with one of NASA’s scientists. The program focused on when the X-Ray was sent into space, featured some images from the X-Ray, and stressed the importance of coding, data collection, and software development to continue communication with the X-Ray.
Who better to coordinate this opportunity with the Chandra X-ray Observatory than Chandra Webb, KIPP Nashville Collegiate High School’s Computer Science teacher!
Ms. Webb is in her 21st year of teaching and first year teaching at KIPP Nashville. She followed in her mother’s footsteps, becoming an educator after initially beginning her career in finance.
“My mother, who was a teacher, convinced me to go back to school to work as a teacher. I completed my teacher training and have been teaching ever since. It’s enabled me to have a rewarding career. I love helping young people learn new things, build confidence in themselves and reach their future goals.”
Although Ms. Webb began her teaching career teaching Language Arts, she says she always used technology in her classroom and served as Technology Coordinator at her prior school for 15 years. This is her second year teaching computer science, which she says has been the challenging highlight of her teaching career so far.
“My goal in teaching computer science is for my students to acquire work-related computer science skills. There are so many opportunities for students in the field of computer science, but many lack the basic skills to enter those fields. I try to make my classes relatable and focused in order for students to see that the skills they are learning can and will help them do whatever career they choose.”
Through projects like building their own multi-page websites, Ms. Webb’s students get unique opportunities to learn those real-world skills while tapping into their creativity.
Ariana, a sophomore in Ms. Webb’s Computer Science Discoveries class says, “I like being able to express myself through code and use my own imagination to create different websites. I want to have my own website, because I do hair and want to advertise that.”
Emily adds, “I feel like there’s no limit to what you can do in coding. The more you know, the more you can learn. I want to be a forensic scientist, so I feel like coding could be really helpful.”
Tomontae is interested in mechanical engineering and opening doors of opportunity for other Black students.
“As a young Black man, I’d like to break down the percentage of people of color in the field. I’d love to influence other people who look like me who are also interested in this field. It’s computer science, and I’m here for a reason.”
Chioma, who’s also interested in engineering and has been coding through after school programs, agrees. “Especially with Ms. Webb being my teacher, her being Black, that helped me push further. I want little girls to be able to see me and say, ‘I could do that’.”
Ms. Webb says the best part of her job is seeing her former students thriving – in fact, two of her former students work for KIPP Nashville.
“I think the quote is true ‘If you can see it, you can be it.’ I want to inspire my students that they are not defined by how they look or where they come from, but from their character and the skills they display.”