High school teacher wins international technology awards

FERGUS – The Centre Wellington District High School technology teacher who has led numerous CyberTitan teams to victory, recently won a few awards himself.

Tim King has won the Cisco Networking Academy Alumni Innovation Architect award for the work he’s done to end gender bias in the IT world by encouraging and eventually sending a girls’ team to the CyberTitan competition.

But even greater than that, King was named the Shooting Star at the virtual awards presentation on Aug. 15 – an honour that comes with two tickets to New York City and VIP tickets to the Global Citizens Festival in September, an event to inspire action to end poverty.

“And that means I get to have dinner with the Red Hot Chili Peppers – words I never thought I’d ever say,” King said in a phone interview. “I can’t even imagine! This is such a behind-the-scenes, unique experience.”

King had a career in IT before becoming a teacher in 2004. He first taught in Peel and moved to the Upper Grand District School Board, and specifically to Centre Wellington, in 2007. 

For all that computers and IT are critical infrastructure the world can’t live without, King found that schools didn’t really teach technology beyond the basics.

As for cyber security – there was even less for students to learn.

He did some casting about and discovered CyberTitan – the Canadian national student cybersecurity competition, an arm of the international CyberPatriot competition.

The challenges students face in the competition are very much the challenges facing government, industry, academia and research and King’s students have cleaned up at the CyberTitan competitions. 

Joining the competition automatically made the school part of Cisco’s Networking Academy as they trained for competition. 

In 2018, King created a Network Academy at the school and began integrating the many free courses available into the curriculum.

King himself took some courses offered by the Cisco Networking Academy that have enriched his knowledge and qualify him to be a cyber operations instructor. 

King noticed that while many girls compete in Skills competitions in Grade 8, many move away from technology in high school. 

He was determined to launch a girls’ team at the 2019 CyberTitan competition. 

“When my son was in Grade 8, 80 per cent of competitors at the Lego robotics competition were girls but in high school, I had no girls in my senior tech class. They fall out of it in high school,” King said.

“I had some Grade 9 girls in my class, and I begged them to come back in Grade 10. Then I convinced them to try CyberTitans.”

The high school’s girls’, boys’ and co-ed teams are consistently among the top five finishers at CyberTitan and have gone on to compete internationally.

And a few students have gone on to study technology at university and take cybersecurity roles in the workplace. 

“This all goes to show that even in the most unlikely places, with consistent support and effective use of technology assisted learning, we can develop world-class information and communications technology and cybersecurity skills,” King said.

It also shows you can teach an old dog new tricks. 

Now in his 50s, with all his new training, King has been seconded by the Information and Communications Technology Council for two years to promote CyberTitan and cybersecurity learning opportunities for students nationally. 

He travels the country meeting with teachers and students, explaining the competitions, the learning required to compete, and encouraging students of all genders to participate. 

His secondment is split this year with the Quantum Algorithms Institute where he will be innovating again, creating new learning opportunities for students of all backgrounds aimed at the quantum computing revolution on the horizon. 

“Even though every school in Canada depends on information and communication technology (ICT) and the cybersecurity that enables it, very few schools teach it,” King said.

“Finding resources to teach a subject that isn’t on most curriculums is a challenge, but one I take very seriously because ICT and cybersecurity are now the bedrock on which many of our critical infrastructures depend.”

King said many of the cybersecurity breaches we read about in the news are the result of human error and a lack of computer literacy.

“If we can educate people, that’s the fix,” he said.