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Award for Teaching Excellence Recipient: Karen Donathan
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Karen Donathan

George Washington High School

Charleston, WV




“A plan that does not work is not a sign of failure, it is a means to perseverance. Students should never give up!”


“Once the importance of algorithms is truly understood, students become natural planners. I have had many students tell me that they use algorithms in their other courses or in their out-of-school jobs. When I see them make these connections, I know they are true computational thinkers and that they truly get it!” 



Teaching at George Washington High School (GWHS) for almost 20 years, Karen Donathan has been instrumental in guiding hundreds of students into math, engineering, computer science (CS), and other STEM fields and careers.


Starting back in 1996, Karen encouraged students that were just learning about the Word Wide Web to learn more about computers and the Internet. She became the staff sponsor of computer learning, and “Mrs. D’s office” became the defacto hangout for kids to dive into computer systems administration--deploying and managing a school network, working with a Linux server, launching GWHS’s first-ever web site, and providing any GWHS teacher that wanted one with an email address – unheard-of technical milestones for a public high school at the time.


Fast forward to 2017, Karen teaches four CS classes, including Honors CS and AP classes, and her classes are the most popular classes at GWHS. For Karen, the most important and fundamental CS concept for GWHS students to learn and understand is algorithm development using computational thinking skills.


Whether a student is working on a program, designing an object to be 3D printed, preparing a slide presentation, or just getting ready to go to school in the morning, it is essential for him or her to have a good plan. Algorithm development comes naturally to some students, but if not for others, it can be a practiced and learned skill. Requiring students to produce and present an algorithm before starting any assignment, regardless of the difficulty level, is directly related to problem solving success.


It’s no surprise for the school administration to receive regular feedback from state universities that incoming freshman college students who have completed Karen’s classes at GWHS are some of the most prepared for advanced math and CS classes.


Former graduates of Karen's classroom have gone onto study CS in college and graduate school and are now employed at many of the nation's most well-known technology companies, including Apple, Facebook, Microsoft, and Google. Other graduates teach in the scientific disciplines at secondary schools and colleges and universities across the nation. Some now practice medicine and IP law. And others have started technology companies of their own.


And there are countless others who have chosen careers not directly in science or mathematics, but whose understanding of those fields and the broader world around them is better informed and enriched by the time they spent in Karen’s CS classes.


In addition to her time spent in and out of the classroom helping students, Karen believes in advocacy and mentorship to further the CS teaching profession and help teachers as well. She has served local, state and national teacher communities, starting with grading AP Computer Science exams in 2001, as a reader, a table leader, and a question leader. She has also been a member of the AP CS A Development Committee, is a speaker at many teaching conferences to share best practices, and also finds the time to train non-CS teachers in West Virginia to use iPads for their classes.



3-D printed, to-scale model of the 3rd Floor of GWHS. Student teams were assigned a section of each floor (1-3) and then measured, designed and printed their section. If work was done correctly, all pieces would fit together, as shown above.

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