Trial and error is how students learn best, says Professor Michael Penta, who asks his students to solve problems and design projects in areas where they have little or no prior experience.
“I encourage my students to use failure as a springboard to deeper understanding”, says the self-described “geeky” educator. “My teaching philosophy holds that the highest quality learning environment is one where students are empowered to learn from failure and succeed.”
If the energy and enthusiasm Professor Penta brings to a classroom could be harnessed, it could easily power the computers he uses to teach computer programming while integrating video game design, robotics, and math.
“Computer scientists make the coolest stuff,” he says. “Computers are everywhere, so it is like having control over the whole world.”
Professor Penta is himself a community college success story. After enrolling in “Introduction to Computer Science with Visual Basic” class at Middlesex Community College (MCC), he learned he was programmed to program. By the end of the first week of classes he had completed all the posted assignments for the semester. His professor suggested he think about programming as a career path.
An associate’s degree from MCC led to a bachelor’s degree in computer science from UMass Lowell. During this time he was asked to teach video game programming to sixth-grade summer campers. He accepted the challenge and learned something else about himself – he loved teaching.
Professor Penta was named program developer and later associate director for kindergarten through grade 12 engineering outreach at UMass Lowell’s Future Engineers Center while pursuing a master’s in computer science.
When the Center closed in 2011 he was sure of one thing.
“I could not stop teaching. I chose a community college because my experience at MCC changed my life forever.”