Tech program for Montana teachers turns out inaugural class

Teachers from Missoula to West Yellowstone gathered in Missoula in April to begin the inaugural Teachers Teaching Tech program offered by the Big Sky Code Academy. (Martin Kidston/Missoula Current)

A one-year-old program designed to boost the number of technology teachers in Montana turned out its first crop of educators this year, moving the state closer to offering computer skills in a greater number of classrooms.

And that, according to program director Lander Bachert, will help give students a better shot at landing the jobs offered by a growing number of high-tech businesses.

“Computer science should be looked at as a fundamental literacy necessary for future student success,” said Bachert, who head’s the Missoula-based America Campaign’s programming efforts. “These educators are taking the initiative to make sure the 21st century needs of their students are met.”

Known as Teachers Teaching Tech, the program accepted educators from across the state into its inaugural class this year. Offered in partnership with Code.org, the program looks to train teachers who, in turn, can help grow the pipeline of students trained in computer science.

In its first year, the effort has grown to Montana, Wyoming, North and South Dakota.

“Ultimately, we want our students to be critical thinkers and problem solvers so they can fully participate in an ever-changing society,” said Steve Quenell, a program participant from Kalispell. “The curriculum teaches these skills in the context of something students see and use every day – computers – and it prepares them for life outside the classroom.”

Since its launch last April, the Big Sky Code Academy (which is under the America Campaign) has led several coding boot camps geared toward adults. It also has expanded programs offered through Montana Code Girls – an after-school course designed to encourage young women to pursue a career in technology.

More recently, and in a move precipitated by a request from the Missoula County Public Schools, Big Sky Code Academy applied for and was selected to serve as a Professional Learning Partner with Code.org last fall.

This April, two dozen teachers gathered in a Missoula classroom to begin their own computer education, including Kayla Fouts, an educator from Turner, Montana. Fouts teaches in a high school of fewer than 20 students and said the program will be the first of its kind in her district.

“In a small school, it’s very important to get students excited about technology and understand that technology plays a key role in their present and future,” said Fouts. “Knowledge of computer science will allow students to grow and advance in many careers.”

To date, Montana Teachers Teaching Tech has trained 60 educators capable of teaching computer science in elementary, middle and high school.

“More and more industries are moving toward or already using more technology,” said Don Ashbury, who teaches in Colstrip. “We want to get our students started at an earlier age and provide them with an excellent opportunity to advance in the future.”