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Tammi Zentic challenges students to think about a career that won’t involve computers or digital devices.

That’s a tall order especially in an age when:

An Arizona restaurant is staffed by robots.

Driverless cars deliver groceries.

People soon will be able to use a phone app and a smart toaster to put a special message on toast.

Zentic is the computer coding teacher at Fremont Middle School.

On Monday night, she was recognized at the Fremont Public Schools Board of Education meeting for her work.

FMS Principal LaVonne Emanuel commended Zentic and presented her with a Certificate of Achievement. Board members congratulated her.

Coding is nothing new for Zentic.

She previously incorporated coding in science classes she taught, but she’s broadened that—writing a curriculum for a class offered to all students at the seventh and eighth grades.

The new curriculum was implemented this year.

“It was quite an undertaking,” Emanuel told the board. “Tammi jumped into it and did it—and did it with great enthusiasm—and she also attends coding training during the school year.”

Emanuel said computer coding opens doors for students.

“It’s a great thing for kids,” Emanuel said.

Zentic, who’s worked at FMS for 19 years, began as the consumer family science teacher.

About six years ago, that program was cut and Zentic became a science teacher.

During that time, she found information about a free, computer programming workshop that provided information on how students could learn game design. She had several students interested in that topic and went to the workshop.

She obtained curriculum on the topic and asked if the school would let her operate an accelerated science class.

Zentic gave a pre-test to seventh-graders.

Once students were placed on a team, she looked at their scores.

Anyone who scored in the top quarter were put in the accelerated science class.

Those students got the entire science curriculum three days a week, instead of five. She taught them coding the other two days. She’d do this with 29 students a year for about five years.

Zentic also would become president of the Computer Science Teachers Association in Omaha.

The more research she did, the more Zentic realized how important it is for students to get these computer skills to prepare them for future careers.

“They’re going to be working in jobs that haven’t even been created yet,” Zentic said. “No matter what career field our kids are going to be choosing, we can pretty much be guaranteed that they’re going to need some type of knowledge in computers, and how they work, or some type of digital device.”

And she poses this question:

“Do we want kids just to use technology or do we want to be educating kids in order to create the next technology?” she asked. “Isn’t that what education is all about? We are preparing kids the best we absolutely can for the future.”

During the past year, Zentic was able to provide coding instruction to 500 students in grades 7 and 8.

So not only are seventh- and eighth-graders who score well in science or math able to learn these skills, but also students in resource classes and those who don’t know English.

Zentic knows it’s likely that students without computer skills aren’t going to get as good of paying jobs.

“One of our most underrepresented populations are our Hispanics, especially girls,” she said.

Women, in general, who don’t have computer programming and coding skills are under-represented.

“There’s a big push in the nation to change that,” she said.

Classes at FMS are meeting that need for the community.

Zentic teaches students in seven-week rotations. In each rotation, she teaches five classes with anywhere from 18 to 29 students.

Some students can take her class twice a year. In one class, she can run three curriculums.

She may have 10 students taking it for the first time and 10 taking it a second time.

In one class, she had nine students who knew only limited English.

“It’s been a challenge, but that’s the beauty of computer science. If you set it up correctly, it is very individualized, which is what our students need,” she said.

Zentic’s room is never quiet – not with students bouncing ideas off each other.

It defies the stereotypes of computer programing as individuals sitting in cubicles by themselves or of a small group of people who don’t relate well to the world.

Zentic sees a world of opportunities for students with computer skills.

“It’s amazing the type of career fields that are out there,” she said.

Zentic attended a Nebraska Education Technology Association conference, where a guest speaker from Texas gave a presentation, called “The Future of Work.”

The speaker presented information on driverless cars in Houston.

“You order your groceries and that car delivers it and nobody’s driving it,” Zentic said. “There’s driverless semis going from Texas to California.”

A McDonald’s in Phoenix is operated by robots.

And there’s something else.

“There’s a toaster, where you can take an app on your phone and make a message like: ‘Hey, Love you, Mom,’ then program it to the toaster, and when you pop in your toast the next morning – that toast comes out with that message,” she said.

In her classes, Zentic’s beginning students learn the skills to create a basic website. In the next class, students learn how to program a website that—if they continue with those skills—could get them a job creating websites for other people.

Students do game design. Zentic also provides a mini-session on cybersecurity.

That will be a huge field in the future, she said.

The students also do something called augmented reality. For instance, one student took a picture of a basketball, which became a trigger image. The student then made a video of herself making a half-court shot.

She overlaid the video in the program on the basketball image. If someone scans the image on her locker, it would take the viewer to the video of her half-court shot.

Other projects have involved wearable technology. Students programmed the Fremont fight song into T-shirts and made them light up. So as the T-shirts were playing the fight song, the lights were going on and off.

Students also can use computer programming skills to create and compose their own music.

“I’d love to partner with different industries in the community. Give us a little project. Have the kids see what they could come up with,” she said.

Zentic commends Fremont Public Schools Superintendent Mark Shepard and Fremont High School Principal Scott Jensen for their support.

And she has high praise for Emanuel and Todd Niehaus, assistant principal, at the middle school.

“I’m really passionate about it,” Zentic said of the computer skills education. “I see the importance of it and I’m so thankful the Fremont Public Schools does as well.”

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News Editor

Tammy Real-McKeighan is news editor of the Fremont Tribune. She covers news, features, religion stories and writes the weekly faith-based, Spiritual Spinach column.

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