Kyle Dencker, who received both a bachelor’s in computer science and master’s degree in career and technical education from UCF, is a finalist for the 2019 Florida Teacher of the Year. In the 10 years he taught at Timber Creek High School, Dencker has built a computer science program that supports over 360 students each year. He did not simply identify students already interested in computer science. Dencker also encouraged students from populations underrepresented in the field.
Ada Lovelace wrote the first computer program in 1843. In a 2016 College Board study, however, females only made up 22 percent of participants taking the high school Advanced Placement (AP) exam in computer science. Participation by students of color was only 13 percent. Early in his teaching career, Dencker recognized the disparities between white male students and girls and underrepresented minorities in his computer science classroom.
“I realized I needed to do more to make sure the culture in my computer science program was inclusive and all students felt welcome. I no longer depend on traditional lecture and lab methods, but instead inquiry-based learning.”
For years now, Dencker’s recruitment and teaching approach built student confidence that launched STEM careers with the foundations of computer science. Former students pursued degrees in, or related to computer science. For many, student engagement and success materialized well before their high school graduation.
According to Erin Connors, mother of Dencker’s former student Elise Morton, “Mr. Dencker consistently reached out to groups of students underrepresented in computer science and STEM. He enthusiastically agreed to serve as the faculty sponsor for a brand-new chapter of Girls Who Code. The new club increased the number of girls interested in computer science, and while the regular programming team of 40 members typically had only three girls, the first meeting of Girls Who Code attracted 30. The girls gained confidence and experience leading the club meetings, with Mr. Dencker’s guidance and sponsorship, and successfully recruited other female students who never would have joined the regular programming team. He also strongly encouraged his female students to apply for recognition in computer science-related activities by the National Center for Women and Information Technology (NCWIT), sponsored by the National Science Foundation.” Just last month, 21 of Dencker’s female students were recognized regionally and three nationally for their work in computer science at a NCWIT Aspirations in Computing celebration hosted at UCF.
Additional results from the 2016 College Board study reports that females who try AP Computer Science in high school are 10 times more likely to major in computer science and black and Hispanic students are close to eight times more likely to major in computer science. As a lead facilitator this summer, Dencker joined Code.org for a Chicago workshop to prepare over 3,900 educators to teach computer science and increase participation by women and underrepresented minorities.
“Giving every student the opportunity to take computer science courses is very important to me, however, I know I cannot teach every student myself. I would love to see a computer science education degree at a college or university like UCF where we can prepare student teachers to earn the Florida Computer Science K-12 teaching certificate. UCF has strong education and computer science programs, which makes it an exciting venue to help bring computer science to every school.”
The winner of the Florida Teacher of the Year will be announced July 13 at the Florida Teacher of the Year Gala in Orlando. The Florida Teacher of the Year celebrates teachers who dedicate their lives to educating future generations. Each year, Florida’s school districts have the opportunity to honor 74 teachers at the district level. These top educators are selected for “extraordinary student gains, community involvement, teacher leadership and instructional practices,” among other contributions as an educator. Five district Teachers of the Year are named Florida Teacher of the Year finalists and, from those, one statewide winner is selected as the Christa McAuliffe Ambassador for Education and receives $20,000.