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Award for Teaching Excellence Recipient: Jared O'Leary
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 Jared O'Leary

Desert Thunder School

Tolleson, AZ



“It is fundamental for students to know how to read, predict, and debug an

algorithm in order to understand how the algorithm will execute a task.”



For the past two years, Jared O’Leary has been the K-8 Computer Science teacher in the Avondale Elementary School District, which is located 15 miles west of Phoenix, AZ. Jared teaches CS to all 600+ students in his school, meeting their needs at a personal level through an experimental, self-paced curricula for students to discover and construct computational thinking concepts within the context of programming.


In order to best assist the students he works with, Jared designs and facilitate his classes based on characteristics of affinity spaces and mod culture. He is constantly evaluating and refining new tools to keep up with the latest trends in CS education, offering a multitude of options and the ability to create individually meaningful projects. Resources on the class website are grouped by interests such as “Create apps with Swift,” “Create art with Khan Academy,” “Create games and stories with Scratch,” or “Create music with Sonic Pi” rather than by programming language or platform.


To understand computer programming and CS, Jared believes, “It is fundamental for students to know how to read, predict, and debug an algorithm in order to understand how the algorithm will execute a task.” In this way, students learn to debug using research-based approaches, rather than simple trial-and-error and can start to think through more efficient ways of reworking an algorithm to execute a task. Jared believes this approach can be applied to other programming languages, music, or even sports. For example, a musician using a ‘read, predict, debug approach’ with a piece of music can fix potential problems before they occur in a live performance. Similarly, an athlete can analyze techniques to debug inefficiencies in personal motion in order to improve performance against an opponent during a race or game.


The biggest misunderstanding Jared sees with students is the inability to see how a part of an algorithm fits within the whole. For instance, he observes that students can understand what individual lines/blocks of code do; however, often they are unable to understand how a sequence of code works to perform a specific action or series of actions. In order to assist with developing an understanding, he uses a variety of open, guiding, and direct questions to guide his students toward an understanding of how the individual parts create the whole. This process usually involves thinking of the end result, thinking through individual steps to accomplish the end result, and relating the individual steps to the desired and actual outcomes.


Committed to supporting teachers and districts, Jared freely shares hundreds of open source resources for any educator to use or remix.  He has trained and mentored the other CS teachers in the Avondale district and acted as the district champion for the program. When budgets were tightened, Jared fought to make sure CS remained a priority in the district. Most recently, Jared facilitated district-wide K-8 coding courses, as well as a media arts Makerspace, and a music production course. Jared has given over 40 professional development presentations on coding and technology at the local, state, and international level. Jared sees himself as a change agent to help others leverage the coding and makerspace classes he has designed and taught, for neophytes and experts alike.


Jared is currently completing a Ph.D. in music education at Arizona State University. His research interests include the nexus of music engagement, learning, and computer science; music engagement and learning through video games and interactive learning; affinity, hybrid, and participatory music making and learning; skill acquisition and expertise; and critical discourse studies and discourse analysis. He has designed and facilitated undergraduate and graduate education courses at Arizona State University.


In addition to being one of ten worldwide recipients of the Awards for Teaching Excellence in Computer Science winner, Jared is also an Apple Distinguished Educator (ADE).





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