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 Getting to Know SDCOE: Coordinator Shares Passion for Computer Science

Mark Lantsberger is easy to spot as he moves around schools across the county. He sports a mohawk and an excited gleam in his eye when he talks about his passion for helping people, whether they're students or educators he's interacting with in his new role as computer science coordinator for the San Diego County Office of Education's (SDCOE) Learning and Leadership Services division. In honor of Computer Science Education month, Lantsberger shared a little about himself and his work.

You've had a really interesting, varied background. Tell us a little bit about who you are and what you did before you came to SDCOE.

I actually started as an avid semi-pro musician. As I started college, I found that I gravitated toward mathematics and quickly started playing around with code in the early '90s. I really ramped up my studies as digital recording became more common and started writing code for audio codecs to work with digital recording devices. As I finished my undergraduate studies, I didn't envision myself sitting in a cubicle all day hacking code. The industry has substantially changed since then, but I've always been a people person. I had been teaching bass lessons for six or seven years and really enjoyed helping people learn the practical and theoretical sides of music and thought, "Maybe I'll become a teacher." And I did!

After teaching math in middle school for three years, I was asked to create a coding program at a high school in Pleasanton, which I did for the next seven years. Then I met my wife Susan, who is a naval officer, and the great adventure began. We moved to Bremerton, Wash., where I taught math for two-and-a-half years before a six-month stint in Virginia [and a move back to San Diego].

I actually taught as a creative at the Apple Store in Mission Valley during that time, as I couldn't seem to get into San Diego Unified as a substitute. We went to Italy for three years, and I taught at the Department of Defense high school for two of those years.

[Eventually it was] back to San Diego, where I was hired at Poway Unified. I taught at Del Norte High School for the last five years, where I had wonderful students in computer science. I was honored as a San Diego County Teacher of the Year and a finalist for [California Teacher of the Year] in 2018.

When the state adopted computer science standards, I was compelled to apply for the new coordinator position here at SDCOE. I'm currently interning to attain my Preliminary Administrative Credential.

Why is computer science important for students?

Computer science helps young people in several ways. First, it's a highly prized and employable skill. But more importantly, it helps students understand logic in a very palpable way. It has a plan, write, execute, fix, execute cycle so kids get immediate feedback when they're "right." Students love to be "right;" just look at the popularity of video games. They'll work very hard to achieve in a game. Computer science is similar. What's really fun is there's no one "right" for a program. One student solution may be very different from another. Both are correct depending on what the original plan was. That being said, there may be a most efficient solution to a given problem, and there's lots of learning students can get out of that experience. It's very important for computer science teachers to allow students to experience the struggle. Not just let them flail about — guidance is needed — but small suggestions, veiled recommendations, and lots of encouragement help students raise their intellectual resilience.

What is SDCOE's role in strengthening and expanding computer science education in local schools?

Our role is to start raising awareness that the state has adopted computer science standards and the expectation is that all California students should have these experiences and learn from them. As we identify points of excellence, we can start to share those across the county. Some districts haven't even started this journey, and I want to be right there as a thought partner in their work. We'll be offering professional learning to classroom teachers and counselors in best practices, equitable opportunities, curriculum selection, and cross-curricular integrations. We also plan on creating a teacher leader network to help teachers and teachers on special assignment come together. In a word, SDCOE is here to help in whatever ways our districts need.

How do you plan to approach your work?

From early in my career, I've been dedicated to the growth of my students. Like most teachers, I've put in countless "extra" hours to make sure I was the best teacher I could be and meet my students where their needs were. I'm doing the same thing in this job. I'm working hard to learn some new things and always looking for how I can be a better coordinator.