Montana State University

MSU computer science professor takes ‘Joy and Beauty of Computing’ to Bozeman High School

May 14, 2014 -- By Sepp Jannotta, MSU News Service

Bozeman High School senior Lillie Hawkins and junior Hugh Jackovich use the computer coding language Python to program a graphic based on the game “Minecraft.” The dual-credit course was co-taught by John Paxton, head of Montana State University’s Computer Science Department, at center, as part of an effort to boost the number of Montana students on the computer science career track. MSU Photo by Sepp Jannotta.   High-Res Available

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Tel: (406) 994-4571

BOZEMAN – Students at Bozeman High School are finishing up an inaugural computer programming class and earning college at the same time.

Taught by Montana State University professor John Paxton, “The Joy and Beauty of Computing,” offers 25 students an overview of the world of computing, as well as a gentle introduction to computational thinking using the Python programming language.

The course, a dual-credit offering that gives students at the high school the opportunity to earn three MSU credits, is part of an effort to boost the number of Montana students on the computer science career track.

“Judging by the enthusiasm I’ve seen, the students (at Bozeman High School) are eager to learn the fundamentals of computational thinking and how computer scientists can impact the world,” said Paxton, who is head of MSU's Computer Science Department. “And, while some of them probably aren’t heading toward a college degree in computer science, some of them are excited about going in that direction. Either way, the knowledge and skills they learn in ‘Joy’ will help prepare them for future jobs and academic disciplines, nearly all of which will be enhanced by computational thinking skills.”

With nearly 100 students indicating their intent to take the course fall and spring semesters, Kevin Conwell, Bozeman High School principal, said the course is clearly receiving good reviews along students’ word-of-mouth grapevine.

Lillie Hawkins, a senior at Bozeman High School, agreed that basic computing is a subject that speaks to high school students because it is so relevant in today’s tech-driven world.

“Both of my parents are software engineers and they both think it should be a core class for high school,” Hawkins said as she worked through an assignment to use the coding language Python to create a graphic based on the computer game “Minecraft.” A few seats away, freshman Tyler Mahan said he had no previous coding experience but was surprised to find out “how awesome it is.”

Paxton has been co-teaching for the spring semester with Bozeman High School business teacher Kerri Cobb. Cobb, who will have the lead teaching role beginning in the fall, said the course had already surpassed expectations.

Paxton said he hopes to see this course, or something similar, being offered at high schools across Montana.

This summer, MSU will offer a week-long course, taught by MSU robotics and computer science teaching professor Hunter Lloyd, designed to prepare junior high and high school teachers to incorporate computational thinking and Python programming into their courses. The course will be offered through MSU's Master of Science in Science Education program.

Also, to excite young students about the possibilities in computer science and hopefully drive demand for classes like “The Joy and Beauty of Computing,” Lloyd has made more than 30 presentations across the state with his humanoid robot Looney, talking with students in middle schools and high schools.  

The outreach tour, the summer educators’ course and Paxton’s efforts to establish a high school curriculum for “The Joy and Beauty of Computing,” are all being funded by a $200,000 gift the Gianforte Family Foundation pledged to MSU last fall to help increase the number of students enrolling in computer science. 

Contact: John Paxton, (406) 994-4780,