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It is never too early for Computer Science. Or robots doing the “Cha Cha slide!”

When you ask Conceptual Physics teacher Billy Abdallah or AP Computer Science teacher Michael Dimen about how an “Intro to Computer Science” unit got folded into the freshman physics curriculum, they will both say it came from a “vision.” And not necessarily their own vision either. The idea was first proposed by Head of School Kate Morin and Director of Innovation and Community Partnerships Melissa Tighe. And although the initial ideas didn’t initiate from Mr. Abdallah and Mr. Dimen per se, they both saw the incredible potential in the approach. The earlier Mayfield students could be exposed to computer science, the better. They knew that exposing students to “challenging” subjects at early ages—with a focus on curiosity— the more students would feel empowered to pursue more study in those arenas. That had been one of the driving forces in creating the Conceptual Physics for Freshmen course in the first place. Once the computer science pilot started, Mr. Dimen and Mr. Abdallah knew the hard work of putting the course together was not in vain.
The nuts and bolts of embedding this Computer Science unit in the Conceptual Physics course-load took form in the summer before the 2021-22 school year. Mr. Dimen and Mr. Abdallah outlined a bold and innovative sketch of the unit. They proved to be natural collaborators, perhaps because they had a fair amount in common. They are both scientists, both young, both affinity group coordinators on campus—and inside a faculty that is predominantly female—Mr. Dimen and Mr. Abdallah stand out as some of the few male teachers. And they had a built-in connection that came with this Conceptual Physics class. Mr. Dimen had taught physics at Mayfield before moving over to the math department, so when Mr. Abdallah was hired to teach that course to freshmen, Mr. Dimen was part of the process of onboarding him.

When it came to exposing students to the underlying principles of Computer Science, Mr. Abdallah and Mr. Dimen had a shared desire to include a moral element, very much in line with the Holy Child mission. This is what Mr. Dimen calls: “the whys, the hows, and the shoulds of computer ethics.” Mr. Dimen brings up the same concepts in his AP Computer Science elective and Mr. Abdallah didn’t realize how much these ideas might ignite the 9th graders as well. “It really was supposed to be a 10 minute intro in the first class,” laughs Mr. Abdallah, “but then we got on topics like cyber bullying and sustainability and who was making these computers, and are they being paid enough? The conversation lasted the whole class…and it was really insightful to hear 14-15 year olds questioning all of this.”

Sissy Page ‘25 remembers that conversation well, “I really enjoyed the opening discussion our class had when we discussed the morals and ethics of technology and the accessibility of the internet and technology to the world. “ The topics discussed made an impression on Julianna Aparicio '25 as well, who says, “I definitely started to think differently about computers and the way they work after the first class.”

Although Mr. Dimen was influential in how Mr. Abdallah organized his course material for the inaugural Computer Science unit in the Freshman Physics class, it was Mr. Abdallah teaching the students, discovering in real-time how much of the planning worked and what might need to be improved on. Mr. Abdallah organized the class around 4 major components: 

  1. Instructions, patterns and vocabulary—for technical literacy 
  2. Algorithms—understanding the steps computers use to solve problems 
  3. Coding—learning the languages of algorithms and programming 
  4. Interest building—encouraging students to speculate on wider applications

Mr. Abdallah also had strong guiding principles for this new part of his curriculum. He wanted it to be project based, with hand-on learning. No homework. And the final product would involve programming robots!

For the last several years, Mayfield had been experimenting in the best ways to introduce computer science to the student body, including “Vidcode” and “Sphero.” But it was hard to phase in this material early enough, and to a wide enough audience. This was why the suggestion of folding the material into the freshmen physics course was so ingenious—it is a mandatory class—taken by every single 9th grader. 

The issues of gender parity when it comes to computer science is not lost on Mr. Dimen or Mr. Abdallah. Since its founding, the field has remained deeply male-dominated. This is why the results of an anonymous survey conducted at the conclusion of this unit in the Freshmen Physics class so delighted them both—and encouraged Mr. Abdallah that he had struck the right balance. In spite of being mandatory subject material, 97% of students reported that they enjoyed the unit on computer science. And 51% of students said they wanted to take more computer science courses at Mayfield!

That sentiment was shared by students outside of that survey as well. Megan Lee ‘25 says “I would love to continue learning about computer science and all that is behind it. I find it very interesting how computers work and are programmed.” Michelle Guillen ‘25 explains, “it is fun to learn about coding and computer science. I really do believe that it would be fun to learn it again later on in the future.” And Sissy Page elaborated saying “it is a valuable and fun skill to possess.” 

Julianna Aparicio makes it clear that the academic course had visible applications in her personal life too. “One of the most fun conversations I took part in during this lesson was talking about the social media algorithms and how those might work and be created,” she says. “That is something that was relevant and interesting to me, as social media is more often than not a part of my everyday life, and it was so interesting to get to learn about how those apps' algorithms are created and specialized.”

The final Computer Science project was something the 9th graders embraced and praised. Not only did they build, customize and program robots (using the Lego Education “Spike” collection), they also went on to record those robots doing dance moves, i.e. instant TikTok gold! 

Jade Telles '25 says. “I really enjoyed working with the robotics part of the lesson because it allowed us to experiment and try new things. It's amazing to see your creation work after trying and trying for so long!” And Sissy Page said it was unforgettable to see when your  “robot danced the Cha Cha Slide!”

On the heels of Mr. Abdallah’s successful introduction to Computer Science to freshmen, Mr. Dimen is gearing up to launch another new computer course on campus too, this in the summer session, entitled “Your Digital World.” It is aimed at rising sophomores but open to all grades. Describing the goals of this new course, Mr. Dimen explains: “As our daily lives revolve more and more around computer interaction, it is increasingly more important to understand how computer use shapes the world around us and how computers shape our lives in return.”

Mr. Dimen loves that Mayfield students are not just getting technical skills in all of these classes, but critical thinking ones as well. They are not just being asked how something works, but why it works, and should it work a different way? With these new offerings available this year, Mr. Dimen is hopeful this “could potentially lead to more computer science courses” being offered in the near future. 

Mr. Abdallah sums up the benefits of Mayfield students studying computer science nicely. “It’s the most fundamental kind of information you can have for any job in technology.” He doesn’t expect that all of his students will become computer scientists, “but it is so important they have been exposed to the building blocks, because we want them to have every opportunity possible.”
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Established in 1931, Mayfield Senior School in Pasadena, CA is a Catholic, independent, college preparatory school for young women grades 9-12. Noted for its rigorous academic program, which includes 28 Advanced Placement and Honors courses, Mayfield’s curriculum is underscored by a philosophy of educating the “whole child,” which also encourages commitment to and excellence in the arts, athletics, community service and spiritual growth. The nurturing environment at Mayfield Senior School allows each student to flourish in an atmosphere of personal attention.