iSchool in the high schools

When Michael Marczewski registered for FIT 100: Fluency in Technology at Tahoma High School in Covington last January, he figured he was ahead of the curve. An avid computer user, he wanted to learn programming and thought the class would be easy.


"It included things I didn't know, so the way the class unfolded almost surprised me," said Marczewski, 17.

Students like Marczewski are the reason Fluency in Technology has been offered at the University of Washington since 2007, and for the last year, it's also been offered at three high schools in the Seattle area.

Fluency in Technology teachers say young people like Marczewski often know less about information technology than either they or many adults think they do. They use computers for e-mail and word processing but seldom understand the whys and wherefores behind such tools or ways to use more demanding tools such as databases and computer programming.

Fluency in Technology has been offered at Tahoma, Everett High School in Everett and Jackson High School in Mill Creek. D.A. Clements, who has taught the course to about 150 UW students each quarter since 2007, estimates that about 170 high school students took the course this year, 63 of them for five UW credits.

At the UW, there's a waiting list of students who wish to take Fluency in Technology, and demand became one of the reasons for moving the course into high schools. Another is a National Research Council report that calls for more high school instruction in information technology.

Shannon Matson, manager for K-12 programs offered by UW Educational Outreach, says it'll be a year before the university has data about the impact of Fluency in Technology courses. By that time, she said, many of the students will be in college and better able to assess the course's real value.

Marczewski said he had to work hard in the class but other students had to work harder. "A lot of people didn't know their way around computer operating systems, so they had a steeper learning curve."

, who teaches Fluency in Technology at Tahoma High School, said only three or four of the 27 students in her class this past semester arrived with advanced computer skills. The rest knew word processing but not much more.

"I think the students have grown, as the course opens their eyes to how much technology is out there," she said. "From learning about computer security to making a Web page, they get well-rounded perspectives."

High school Fluency in Technology students visited the Information School on June 4. Dean Emeritus Michael Eisenberg talked with them about Informatics, and at the Capstone Event they talked with graduating students about capstone projects.

"High school students have no idea about the variety of technical careers, and a visit to the university can open their eyes," said Clements, who trains high school instructors to teach Fluency in Technology.

Clements and Cheryl Metoyer, an associate professor in the iSchool, have applied for a National Science Foundation grant to train high school instructors in Yakima to teach the course to Latino and Native American students.

"It's rewarding to see students catching on, getting excited about technology and knowing that if this excites them, there are careers waiting for them," Clements said.