Wednesday, March 23, 2016

SBISD Volunteer Promotes Coding, Computer Science

By Annette Baird / Memorial Community Extra - Houston Chronicle
Published 7:46 am, Wednesday, March 9, 2016

Volunteer Karen North talks game design with Luke Bailey and Ted E. Bear during a computer coding class. Photo: R. Clayton McKee, Freelance
Whether it's activities for students or training for teachers, computer science education in the Spring Branch school district would be poorer if it wasn't for Karen North.

North, a retired math and computer science educator, helped promote additional opportunities for district students to take coding and computer science classes, from the coding camps and activities for elementary pupils to the expanded computer science offerings in middle and high school to the district's "Hour of Code" programming events.

She helped secure grants for basic robotics kits, which involves writing code, for elementary schools and trained teachers to use them.

She's been instrumental in teacher development and connecting district teachers to universities to understand computer science applications at a higher level.

And she regularly volunteers at her grandson's school to teach coding.

North has been a long time advocate for computer science education at the state and national level, blogging, networking and helping to put together events to raise awareness.

"She's a tireless advocate for computer science education," said Karen Justl, interim director for educational technology. "She is very well connected through the state and the nation."

For her efforts, North recently was recognized as one of nine "Champions of Change" from across the country at a White House ceremony on Jan. 26.

The honorees were selected for their leadership and innovation in helping to broaden access to computer science, programming and computational thinking.

"I can't think of anyone more deserving," said Justl, who nominated North.

Justl said North has helped her grow professionally and connected her to the movers and shakers in the computer science world, citing the founder Hadi Partovi.

"For me personally, she has helped me to understand the issues and challenges around computer science education," Justl said.

"I've met with advocates regarding computer science because of Karen - her passion is now rubbing off on me."

North, 67, started teaching math in 1985 and enhanced her lessons by coding with Logo and BASIC on an Apple IIE and Texas Instruments calculator.

She taught math and computer science at the high school level at Fort Bend and Alief school districts and at Westside High School in HISD.

She went on to serve as a technology specialist at Piney Point elementary school, also in HISD, before retiring in 2011.

Right from the start of her teaching career, North said she saw how coding helped students build problem-solving skills and pursued that route for her math and computer science classes.

It was also around that time that she started her website,, in HTML script.

North has been involved with training elementary school teachers from across Houston in coding through; securing a grant in partnership with Rice University to teach teachers the connection between coding, art and math; and enlisting "code buddies" to volunteer with the youngest students.

She's involved with the National Center for Women and Information Technology and the American Association of University Women's Expanding Your Horizons in Science and Mathematics Conference for middle school girls.

She's pushing the state Board of Education to have coding and computer science courses embedded in the middle school curriculum and to offer more courses from earlier grades. The list goes on - in her bid to excite kids about coding and computer science.

"What I'm trying to do is build bridges between my knowledge and educating young people," North said.

"I have to keep doing this and ensure we get as many people on board as we can."


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