This week Ali and JoDee sit down with Tasha Penwell, who worked in higher ed for 8 years and is now an Amazon Web Services (AWS) Solutions Architect, Grow with Google partner, as well as the founder of Bytes and Bits. Together, they will discuss what AWS is, how to become an AWS Educator, and what teachers can bring into the tech world.
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Teachers are natural innovators, entertainers and problem solvers. They dream of growing old into the profession, teaching their kids kids. But sometimes career goals shift or change, and that makes opportunities outside of the classroom seem intangible questioning who am I, if I'm not a teacher? I'm your host, Alexandra Simon.
And I'm your co host, JoDee Scissors.
This is The Great Teacher Resignation.
Today, our guest is Tasha Penwell. Tasha was a non-traditional student who finished her degrees, balancing full time work and family. She understands the value of education and the opportunities that come with it. Her mantra is education equals opportunities. Tasha experienced firsthand how breaking the cycle of poverty can help families grow, which in turn helps communities thrive and succeed. That is why she started Bytes and Bits with the mission to stay, study, succeed in rural Ohio. She previously worked in higher education for eight years. Tasha is also an AWS Solutions Architect, AWS educator, Google Applied Digital Skills Ambassador and Grow with Google partner. Welcome to the show today, Tasha.
Thank you. Thank you for having me.
You have quite the resume there. Such a teacher brain to do all those amazing things. Thank you for being on the show today.
So Tasha, can you tell us a little bit about what your role was in higher education, and why you decided to leave higher education after eight years.
So the past four years, I was the computer science program manager at a community college here in Ohio. I enjoy teaching. I love teaching. I kind of went into teaching by accident. I started as an adjunct and I just kind of fell in love with just kind of paying it forward in regards to helping other people learn and the excitement that they get, whenever things start to click. It's just an awesome feeling, and you can see that confidence grow. And you know, from my background, I know how valuable that is. And just be able to be able to provide that to others was just an awesome feeling. And I enjoy doing and I still enjoy doing it. My role, like I said, it was the computer science program manager. And I taught classes ranging from web development, data analytics, AWS cloud computing, a variety of different things. And I also manage the computer science program with the college, and just administrative task and curriculum and all those things that go along with it. One of the things that I also did in the past couple years working there was I hosted computer science workshops, the CS workshop. So where I went to visit high schools. It was.. part of it was a recruitment measure, you know, for colleges. It was really fun, just, you know, bringing some different CS things that the students were not aware of, you know, whether it's cloud computing, digital marketing, AR development, like creating filters for Snapchat, and Facebook, and Instagram. You know, there was a lot of things that they had thought about as an opportunity with CS and just seeing that excitement. And that came along with it was really great. I remember one time where I visited a school. And you know, they were told that I was going to be doing a visit, it was a college visit. And what we did, we use a web based application to create an AR experience and students were able to actually make their own and they had their phones and they were kind of using the filters and just developing it. And it was a lot of fun because they were super excited about the things that they were creating, and which is an awesome feeling, right?
So it sounds like you were really great at your job, you really loved it. And you were passionate, you brought a lot of value I imagined to your community college into your local community. So what changed for you what made you decide to go on a different path?
I got frustrated with how education at a college just kind of treat it like a sales process and a sales business. And the value of education just somehow started becoming more and more of not as much as the higher concern. I've just got a little bit frustrated with that. I wanted to spend more focus on providing value to the students and to the community and focusing on that. And so I decided to leave. I made a decision my final year there with leaving in May, even at the end of the school year, to give them time to prep, you know, for the autumn for my replacement. So that was kind of why. I just wanted to more focus on providing more value as opposed to going through the bureaucracy of the traditional education system and all the measures and the frustrations that come along with it. Just recently, I wrapped up... I was on the committee for a State Committee of Computer Science here in the state of Ohio. It was a collaboration of 26 individuals working in K through 12, in higher ed and businesses. You know, trying to figure out how to revamp the computer science education curriculum here in the K through 12. And actually learned a lot through that whole entire process, because my background is in higher ed, which has different requirements in the K through 12 sector does. And just hearing about all those regulations, and all those policies and everything they have to be mindful of. And I can see why there's such a frustration at the K through 12 sector. As they come into higher ed, there's a lot of things like there's just such a disconnect, in what regards to the opportunity so that the computer science, because there's all these regulations that you know, K through 12 has to abide by, because, you know, that's just the way it is. And during that process, because that was an eight month committee process, is when I start to realize like there's a lot of disconnect. It's not because it's there not knowing about it just because there's so much disconnect, and so much policies and regulations that they have to go through, that that's why they're just not given the opportunity. So students may not have the opportunities to know about some of these resources. Or the concept of computer science is too intimidating or too difficult. Like they see it and they run, they think it's too hard. And it's not that it's difficult, but it's challenging, but it's problem solving. And once you kind of adopt that mentality, it's fun. It can be something you already have an interest in. Social media is one platform that I use a lot, you know, something they already have an interest in. And you can create filters, like you see on Snapchat. You can create these filters, and there's a platform how you do it, and I can show you how to do it. And it's always fantastic whenever they things start to click, and those wheels start to turn. And they realize that it's not quite as hard as they thought it was going to be because they just never had the exposure.
So when I was a teacher, I taught Google CS first as a supplemental resource to the curriculum that we were mandated to teach, you know? But what I noticed about the curriculum was that it was not only just math integrated, but it was literacy integrated, as well. And the biggest difference that I noticed when it was more of a math based CS first lesson was the opportunity to create. It's the project based learning that I think a lot of kids miss out on. It's the opportunity to apply a mathematical skill to a creation and design process, such as designing an app, you know, designing the filter, whatever it may be in the computer science world, there are mathematical skills that are used and how to use that in real life scenarios. So I totally get what you're saying in terms of, we have these traditional standards for mathematics, and all core areas. And when we get to college, it's dispersed, like all of the content areas are dispersed, and there is none of alignment. And that's actually why a lot of young adults don't succeed their first year in college, because of the huge contrast and the huge amount of expectations or different expectations moving on to either community college or university.
Yes, I agree. One of the things that I noticed whenever I was teaching classes at the college is that, you know, I didn't give them PowerPoints. And it's like, I'm not giving you PowerPoints, you're expected to like take notes and write it. So what I've started doing recently, with my AWS classes that I'm doing now, is started creating guided notes. So the guided notes methodology that we use, so there's three iterations of going through the slides. And this is something I've been adopting in pretty much everything I'm teaching now. But there's three iterations of going through the content. So one of the say, for example, with AWS, it's going through the slide content with the AWS restart program. And the first time you go through, you're gonna go through all the terminology. I provide you the terminology that you need to focus on, you know, that's relevant for what you're trying to learn right now. And then you're gonna go through is for their purposes only. And then the second time they go through the second iteration, there's like short fill in the blank answers. So you have to read the content again, and fill in the blank. And then the third time, hopefully, that they've gone through enough times, and they're starting to have a better absorption of what they're trying to actually understand instead of memorization, and the third iteration is more of an open ended kind of question. And they have the opportunity to kind of write down and have a better understanding of what they're doing because this is the third time they've gone through it. It's a lengthy process, and it can take me anywhere from two to three hours to write the guided notes per class. But the benefit that I've seen from that is the fact that the students they are able to go through the knowledge checks there. You know, a lot faster, a lot more confident, more accurate. But I do realize and that the guided notes in the examples that I'm talking about can take anywhere from two to three hours for me to go through the content and read and create. Luckily, they're reusable. But there's time consuming. So I respect that how, you know, the K through 12, it's hard to have that much time just to focus on one particular class, it would not be feasible. But that's the expectation is whenever they just want to like PowerPoints, but that's not going to help them learn. Just not reading it or reading it, it doesn't help.
So can you tell us a little bit about your student demographic now that you're working with?
So right now I'm working with students across the country. It's an online class. There are online classes. I'm located in southeastern Ohio. I have students in Columbus, Ohio, which is about two hours away. And then I have some students from Arizona, California, North Carolina, within the online classes that I'm teaching right now with AWS.
And this is a follow up to AWS and being an AWS educator. How could a teacher perhaps like a classroom teacher, or even someone in higher ed, how can they become an AWS educator?
So first thing that they need is to obtain their AWS cloud practitioner certification. So there are study guides. The AWS has a lot of great resources to help prep for that. But it is, it's a difficult exam. I've had some conversations with students about this, like I'm a good test taker, I've always been a good test taker, I mean, that's a skill that I have relied on over the years. This was not something you can rely on skill with. So to pass it, you know, it's pretty intense. Depending on your background, if you'd have no tech background, this would be you know, it's requires more time to study and prep. But you'd be obtain your cloud practitioner certification. And then depending on who you're teaching for, and what their needs are, you may need to get your associate level Solutions Architect Certification, AWS certification. And just find a school who's needing the teacher, and then they will give you, dependent upon the school, if it's an AWS Academy institution, then that's how you one of the ways that you become an AWS educator by being associated with that AWS Academy institution. So to kind of sum it up, you need the cloud practitioner. At the very minimum cloud practitioner certification, maybe even a solutions architect certification, and to be aligned with the school who's an AWS Academy.
So when you applied and you took that test, what were kind of the basic skills you needed to even know that that was something you would be good at? Was it your background in computer science? What is it exactly that drew you to get that?
So for AWS, I was actually... when I got hired on at the college that I was at recently, I was looking for ways to build a computer science program. It was pretty new. We're in a very rural area. And so I was trying to find ways to broaden it. So I was seeing what other colleges were doing. And that's actually how it came across AWS. It was in 2018, when I first learned about AWS. So it's been what four years since I first started playing with AWS. And what I liked about AWS is it removes some of the barriers. So if you are looking to develop, if you're looking to build, if you're looking to create a startup, some of the barriers is just the technology infrastructure and having the needing the racks and the servers and just all of that stuff. And what AWS does, it helps remove some of that barrier. So whether you have a... you're trying to fill a need for the community, or you just see that there's an opportunity, you know, there's a business opportunity that nobody else is capitalizing on AWS provides the opportunities to do that. So AWS can be you know, for computing, for databases, you know, robotics, AR, gaming. There's a wide variety of things you can do with AWS. So why I brought that into the college was just because it's diversity. And there's such a demand for that particular field. So for my background, my Bachelor's is in IT and my master's is an Information Systems Management. So there's an alignment with a database component, but from ultimately having that AWS certification and having that AWS knowledge with the college that I was associated with or that I was working out, helped provide more value to the students. And you know, as more of a... the college was the second AWS Academy in the state of Ohio. So just provided more value to it.
I want to clarify for our listeners what AWS is. It's Amazon Web Services. And so it's a subsidiary of Amazon, right?
It's on demand cloud computing platforms, right?
And you know, what I think is really interesting is what Tasha shared earlier is that computer science can sound really scary for a lot of young people. I had friends who had started studying computer science in high school. And I was like, wow, you must be super smart because like, I was a theater kid, I was in an art school, which I probably could have done computer science too. But I love the idea of really bringing it down to the interests of young people, right? By engaging them in something that they're gonna connect with and breaking it down. It sounds like the way that you prepare your lessons, you're doing a lot of scaffolding, you're starting simple, you're building up to where they have to learn more on their own about AWS, and about the courses that you're teaching. But what I really find interesting is what teachers could bring to the tech industry, because a lot of times or even just tech education, a lot of times what I found in the schools that I've taught at is the person who comes in and they teach the computer science class, or I think there's AP computer science, there's someone who was a computer scientist, like that was their thing. They were not a teacher first. And maybe this is their first time teaching. And it kind of reminds me of when they bring in someone who speaks Spanish to be a Spanish teacher, but they don't have an education background. And a lot of times it does not go well, you know, for both specialties. So I'm wondering what you could share from your experience kind of being on both sides of the equation, What can teachers bring into the tech industry and then into tech education specifically?
Unknown Speaker 16:19
So I think, you know, with the role of teachers are so multifaceted. I know, they say sometimes multitasking is not a thing I disagree with that multitasking is a thing if you're a teacher. You have to be able to juggle. I heard someone say, you know, you're juggling multiple balls at once. Some are rubber, some are crystal, and your whole goal was to not drop the crystal ones. And sometimes the rubber ones, if they drop, they'll bounce right back up. So that concept and be able to multitask and multipurpose and you know, in the program management and the project management, depending on what their role is, that in itself is an extreme value. And I think the ability to communicate. Communication is key. You know, we've all know about soft skills or power skills. I've heard soft skills be described as power skills. And I completely agree with that. But communication is key to be able to comm unicate at a different level, depending on who you're speaking with. So if you're teaching a subject to somebody brand new, you need to kind of be able to do a comparable at a level that they can understand. So being able to communicate is definitely key, being able to multitask, whether you have multiple projects or programs going on is definitely an advantage. And then the ability to provide training, as you said, not everybody has the teaching skills or the training skills, because that in itself is definitely a value. And so there's companies who are looking for people to be able to train on particular subjects. My focus is on AWS, and it's starting to grow a little bit more of Linux. So that is the area that I would focus on. But teachers who have some sort of background, regardless of what it is, they can provide some training. AWS, the cloud practitioner certification that I mentioned, if they have any kind of background, or maybe no background, and they just have an interest in learning something new. There's a lot of great resources out there for you to study on your own, or, you know, there's places that where you can kind of have more of that traditional structured education. So you know, even if they don't have a background, but they have an interest in that there's a lot of great resources just get started on the AWS pathway. Other things that I've learned about as subject matter experts, SMEs, and I think you guys have mentioned that in a previous episode or a podcast about learning about SMEs. I did not learn SMEs were a thing until last year when somebody reached out to me on LinkedIn asking me if I wanted to be an SME. And I'm like, what's an SME?
And an SME is a subject matter expert. We're learning a lot of new terminology today on the podcast.
And so there's a lot of great lessons in there. What we can do with that is like there are some that are for biology, there's some for computer, there's some for a variety of different backgrounds. So it does not necessarily have to be tech related. But I didn't realize like that was a thing until last year. somebody reached out to me and I was on LinkedIn. I was like, sure, well, I don't know what I'm doing, but yeah go for it.
So Ali and I do a lot of talk about the teacher brain. That's kind of our thing. Teacher brains are capable of anything. And so what I'm hearing is if anybody wants to emerge into a career pathway, similar to yours is that if they can multitask, project manage, communicate, train others, if they're subject matter experts, and I even heard, you know, you kind of talked about the ability to learn something new. Anybody that just can learn something new, which we know teachers are given all kinds of things to learn every year, and they have to adopt it and implement it and be the expert in it. And so, thank you for sharing all of those teacher brain skills. I am sure it will resonate with many of our listeners.
Thank you so much Tasha for joining us today. And listeners if you'd like to connect with Tasha, you can find her on Facebook and LinkedIn as Tasha Penwell. Thank you again for joining the show.
If you liked the great teacher resignation, give us a five star rating and follow us on Instagram, Facebook, Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Google Podcasts, Amazon Music and Audible. Today's episode was written and recorded by me Alexandra Simon, and my co host JoDee Scissors. Executive produced by Teacher Brain. Produced and edited by Emily Porter. Original Music: Emoji by Tubebackr. Special thanks to our sponsor Paper Planes Ed.