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The Saratoga Falcon

The Saratoga Falcon

The Saratoga Falcon

Long-term substitute AP Computer Science teacher hired

Substitute+teacher+Siddhartha+Punj+explains+key+coding+vocabulary+during+an+AP+Computer+Science+lesson+on+Nov.+27.
Emily Wu
Substitute teacher Siddhartha Punj explains key coding vocabulary during an AP Computer Science lesson on Nov. 27.

The district recently hired Siddhartha Punj as a long-term substitute on Nov. 8 to fill in for AP Computer Science A teacher Thomas Wang’s 12-week paternity leave absence. Punj started teaching all four periods of AP Computer Science A on Nov. 13 and will continue to do so until Wang’s expected return in February.

Following Wang’s departure on Oct. 24, substitute teacher Allison Stits took temporary control of the class while the district arranged for a long-term substitute with knowledge of the subject. 

However, Stits was not credentialed to teach AP Computer Science A, so many students, including sophomore Nikita Mirghasemi, were forced to learn the curriculum independently or through the help of peers while the district searched for a long-term substitute with a background in computer science. 

“While Mr. Wang was here, I was able to ask him a lot of questions on the units or lessons I got stuck on,” Mirghasemi said. “Now because he’s not coming back for a while, it’s been more tricky for me.”

Three of the four AP CS periods have teaching assistants (TAs) who help answer questions and assist those who need further support. Before Punj arrived, one of Wang’s TAs, senior Aiden Ye, took on the responsibility of an instructor and gave a total of seven lectures to the students in his period. He talked through the slides provided by Wang and called on students to ask them about how they might approach certain problems. 

“When lecturing and helping around individually, I like to break down concepts,” Ye said. “Feeding students each piece of the puzzle, and letting them put it together themselves.”

While Ye’s period was thankful for the help, other periods — especially fourth period, which does not have a TA — were extremely grateful when Punj, with his knowledge of computer science, finally arrived. Punj was able to continue lecturing with his knowledge in coding.

Punj’s interest in computer science was piqued as a high schooler when he discovered his affinity for technology and coding. He went on to attain a bachelor’s degree at UC Santa Cruz, and a master’s degree in Computer Science at UC Davis. There, he experimented with various programming projects, including one where he took information on fetuses and wrote code to predict if the fetus was going to be healthy, susceptible to illnesses or unhealthy. 

Punj gained professional experience while working at semiconductor giant Intel, where he worked as an intern for half a year and full-time for another year. He specialized in making predictive models inside laptops to enhance performance and increase power efficiency. 

Leaving his job at Intel, Punj is working as a substitute now, but he hopes to direct his career path toward education. 

“I felt that in the industry, I didn’t have that much of a connection to others and I wanted to help out in a learning environment,” Punj said. “I really wanted to connect with students and I think it’s rewarding to work with students and help shape their future.”

According to Punj, he and others mostly worked in small teams or did most things independently in the software industry. However, as a long-term substitute, Punj has been adapting to teaching and connecting with his students. 

“As a high schooler, APCS was one of my most foundational classes that I took, and it helped me pick up more computer science in college. Through teaching this class, I hope to help students and also gain experience in a classroom environment,” Punj said.  

Punj aims to not only prepare students for the AP exam, but also introduce them to real-life applications of code. Instead of following the code.org curriculum for the Unit 4 project, Punj decided to introduce students to simplified neural networks, a branch of Artificial Intelligence (AI). 

He asked students to download the IntelliJ IDE, a software application programmers use to develop code, to practice writing code outside of the code.org interface, the coding program the AP Computer Science A curriculum follows. Code.org includes video lessons, slides, and practice problems for students to learn Java programming. 

“Sometimes following the curriculum only focuses on how to write certain functions like if-statements or static methods. I hope that students can learn more than just the syntax of Java through this project,” Punj said. “Introducing students to the possibilities of applications past the scope of this course can be beneficial if they want to study computer science in the future.”

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