LIVERMORE -- Granada High School teacher Carol Kinnard is crazy about computers -- ever since she learned how to do math on an Apple IIe as a teenager, she's been speaking their language.

"I saw it as a wonderful puzzle I had to solve," Kinnard said. "I ate it up."

Over the next year, Kinnard will convey her enthusiasm for computer science to instructors nationwide as one of 50 teachers selected to pilot a new class for the 2013-2014 school year, part of a Project Lead The Way initiative. The nonprofit provides science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) curriculum to more than 4,700 middle and high schools across the country.

The course, "Computer Science and Software Engineering," will explore a broad range of cutting-edge computer topics, from data mining to writing simulations. Kinnard, 52, will not only be among the first to teach it, she's also helping to develop it as part of a six-member steering committee.

"It was definitely an honor," Kinnard said of her selection. "I felt I could bring a lot to the group having been in the industry. Then I thought, 'I've just signed up for a lot of work, haven't I?'"

Before teaching, Kinnard worked for 18 years in the private sector, with companies such as Sun Microsystems and Lockheed. In 2003, she took her expertise to the classroom, spending nine years at Livermore High before moving on to Granada. A member of the Computer Science Teachers Association, Kinnard runs classes in computer science, graphics, web design and programming -- subjects she finds vitally important but "sorely lacking" at the high school level.

"Our world is full of so much technology, and we're becoming lazy users of it instead of creators," Kinnard said. "To delay that education until college is to deny them an opportunity to explore what's inside these strange machines we're all using."

Project Lead the Way courses in engineering, technology and biomedical sciences are offered to schools for free, but the schools must fund training for teachers. Bennett Brown, Project Lead The Way's associate director of curriculum and instruction, is coordinating design of the new computer course, and said 500 instructors will be certified to teach it by the 2014-15 school year.

Part of an engineering "pathway," Project Lead the Way hopes the class will excite students about careers in computer science and information technology, Brown said. By the end, they'll have had experience in creating video games, applications and e-commerce sites and working with robotics.

"The course isn't about programming language," Brown said. "It's about what you can do with the programming to create things that are exciting."

Dr. Victor Castillo, a group leader at Lawrence Livermore Laboratory, is working with Kinnard on the course's simulation component, covering concepts from predicting sports to modeling neural networks. Castillo said the class will provide training "outside of the common textbook model" to youth who may be less than a decade away from applying for work at the lab.

"The goal is to expose students to these concepts in a broad sense and give them opportunities to explore," Castillo said. "It's extremely important."

Course elements will be squared away in April, and Kinnard will start training other teachers in the curriculum at San Jose State in June. Granada High is offering the program this fall, before it's made available to the entire Project Lead the Way network.

"I would encourage everyone to get proficient in computer science at this level," Kinnard said. "Satisfy your curiosity; find out how computers work."

Contact Jeremy Thomas at 925-847-2184. Follow him at Twitter.com/jet_bang.

Project lead the Way:
Begun in 1997, Project Lead the Way is a nonprofit organization providing middle and high schools nationwide with curricula in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) concepts. More than 4,700 U.S. schools are offering their courses this year. For details, including a searchable map of schools with Lead the Way programs, visit www.pltw.org.
WHERE IT's AT:
Tri-Valley schools implementing Project Lead
the Way pathways in 2012-13:
Dublin
Dublin High School -- Engineering
Fallon Middle School -- Gateway to Technology
Wells Middle School -- Gateway to Technology
Livermore
Christensen Middle School -- Gateway to
Technology
East Avenue Middle School -- Gateway to Technology
Granada High School -- Engineering
Livermore High School -- Engineering
Pleasanton
Amador Valley High School -- Engineering
Harvest Park Middle School -- Gateway to Technology
Pleasanton Middle School -- Gateway to
Technology
San Ramon
California High School -- Engineering,
Biomedical Sciences