The era of coronavirus disease 2019 has thrown many of us for a loop. But if there’s anyone who can weather the storm, it’s teachers! Here we’ve gathered four ECS teacher stories, all from different types of classrooms in this new format of schooling.

Get to know these ECS teachers:

Faythe Brannon

School: Bowen High School, Chicago, IL

School characteristics:

  • Size: 219 students
  • Setting: Urban
  • Demographics: Black – 81.3%, Hispanic – 16.9%, White – .9%, Other – .9%
  • Statistics: Low income: 91.8%, Diverse Learners: 36.1%, Limited English: 7.8%

Number of years teaching ECS: 6 years

Logistically, how is your ECS class different from before the pandemic?

This year, our school district moved to remote learning. 

How do you think the new classroom format has affected students’ experience of the ECS course?  Provide some examples.

Students are encouraged to show their faces during class; however, they do not.  I have not visually seen approximately 95% of the students. They are often disengaged in the learning due to lack of sleep or other distraction.  Moreover, they have severe social and emotional challenges that are difficult to identify and address in a remote learning setting.  It has also impacted students’ willingness to collaborate as well as strengthen other computational practice skills. These barriers significantly impact student learning.  

Describe any challenges presented by these changes for you or for your students.

To address some of the challenges I have had to:

  • Slow the curriculum’s pace to ensure that they had adequate time to understand concepts and not be overwhelmed.
    • Lessons are chunked into mini-lessons that focus on no more than two objectives.
    • Structured weekly slides are provided that include daily agendas. The agendas outline the lesson objectives, assignments as well as expected outcomes.  
    • Students are provided a day of amnesty so that they may submit missing work.
    • Assignments can be completed asynchronously or synchronously.
  • Conduct weekly check-ins/chats to assess their understanding/knowledge and social & emotional health.
  • Develop innovative and creative ways to assess while encouraging them to perform their best under the current circumstance.
    • Checking for understanding tools such as the Nod Emoji chrome extension, raising hand feature, and polls help manage the pace of instructions.   
    • Students are provided multiple support options during working time: “open work room,” where students use the mic for discussion; “quiet work room,” where students use the chatbox for discussion; “teacher support room;” “independent work room;” and the option to have learning buddies.
  •  Is there anything else you’d like to say about your experience teaching in this new classroom format?

This school year has been traumatic for students and teachers.  Shifting from in-person to virtual learning has created events that have required quick modifications and fast iterations.  However, the essence of education is relationships, and these uncertain times have further confirmed that students’ social and emotional health comes first and foremost.  We must prioritize the well-being of students at any cost.

Fortunately, throughout this journey, I have had opportunities to reflect and grow with the support of the CS community through professional development and learning communities.

Jessica Jarboe

School: Milton High School, Milton, MA

School characteristics:

  • Size: 1100 students
  • Setting: Suburban (Suburb of Boston)
  • Demographics: Black – 17.3%, Hispanic – 5.7%, White – .67%, Asian – 6.2 %, Other – 3.8 %
  • Statistics: Low income: 13.9%, Diverse Learners and high needs: 32%, Limited English: 9.3%

Number of years teaching ECS: 6 years

Logistically, how is your ECS class different from before the pandemic?

We are teaching on a hybrid schedule. We have students who are fully remote streaming into the class. The students are synchronous in person/asynchronous in person every other morning. All students are remote in the afternoon every day. 

How has the new classroom format affected how you teach and how your students experience ECS?  

I am used to having all the work and activities for the ECS class completed in class. With our new schedule we are required to assign asynchronous work for students not in school on that day. Giving students some choice in the activities has helped in supporting students with this new structure for learning. The amount of time that students are in class has required that some lessons get cut or modified, and how far we are getting in the curriculum is not as far along as is typical. Students have had to do some activities on their own, which is different from typical ECS experiences. 

Describe any challenges presented by these changes for you or for your students.

One of the biggest challenges I have had was a way to implement pair programming. When in class students must stay distant. During remote classes we have been able to do some pair programming by utilizing breakout rooms and the share screen function. It has been hard to continue this pair work during asynchronous time. 

Describe any benefits presented by these changes for you or for your students.

I have had to be creative and try new things. Parlay Ideas was a tool that helped create discussion based learning. Utilizing breakout rooms has helped students get to know each other better and work together. I have found some students more comfortable presenting to the class virtually than standing in front of the class.  

Other than the classroom format, do you think COVID-19 has affected your class? If so, how? 

We have talked more about data reliability throughout the year.  The events of January 6th, the presidential election, and Covid-19 have reinforced the need for an understanding of how to increase data reliability. 

Is there anything else you’d like to say about your experience teaching in this new classroom format? 

I was really impressed by the variety of the web 2.0 projects. It was an open ended asynchronous activity where students had to submit a deliverable from their exploration. In working with teachers this summer at a training they discovered some great online blocks and binary cards that I was able to implement in my remote classes. 

Dan Rhode

School: Baraboo High School, Baraboo, WI

School characteristics:

  • Size: 1000 students
  • Setting: Distant town
  • Demographics: Black/African American – 1%, Hispanic – 7%, White – 89%, Native American – 3%
  • Statistics: Low income: 32%

Number of years teaching ECS: 8 years

Some background about Baraboo

Baraboo is a “tourist” city, so the collapse of the tourism industry due to COVID will impact the number of students on free and reduced lunch. We also have huge issues of racial and economic division. The internationally famous Prom Nazi Salute photo was taken before our High School Prom just a few years ago, and this year there was white supremacist organizing activity in town. There is also a small group of very well off people, with a lot of inherited wealth.  

Logistically, how is your ECS class different from before the pandemic?

We have had multiple models this year.  We started with 70% in person, 30% virtual. In early November so many staff were ill, the High School was forced to close. After the holiday break (1/5) the entire school district is back in person. Starting the second semester the high school is switching to a 4 day in-person, 1-day asynchronous schedule. The workload is unreal, the stress level is high, and several teachers have quit. 

How has the new classroom format affected how you teach ECS?

Given the format, meaningful group work has been difficult and the most successful activities are projects that can be completed independently. The core content is still delivered, however the ah-ha moments realized by working together are few and far between rather than routine.   Even students working in-person in the classroom are more quiet and distant. Students learning virtually ghost classes and struggle to stay focused for the 90 min block. Journaling has been extended and transformed into a daily attendance activity. 

How do you think the new classroom format has affected students’ experience of the ECS course?  Provide some examples.

Sadly equity in my situation has been greatly impacted.  Many students who are Native Americans are virtual in Baraboo, and the internet on the reservation is very poor. When the entire district went virtual, many students in economically challenged families were forced to have high school siblings take care of younger siblings or extended family. I flipped the PB&J activity so students could participate later asynchronously, but far too large a number of virtual students didn’t participate in either phase of the program. 

However, many students report that computer science courses are still their favorite courses.

Describe any benefits presented by these changes for you or for your students.

Long term, I’ve gotten better at thinking about the why. I’m making sure I’m not teaching or doing activities just because I’ve always done it that way. Since students are less willing to try and fail than they were in the past, I’ve also made a series of step by step videos, etc that might be helpful for future struggling students, but they KILL inquiry for the average student, so I plan to go back to providing less direct help in the future.

Other than the classroom format, do you think COVID-19 has affected your class? If so, how?

Massive impacts. We are distant, isolated and the room is SO QUIET.  My classroom used to be so “alive.” Posters, humor (even if it’s bad Dad jokes) kids geeking out on everything from Star Wars, to the Green Bay Packers.   

We’ve also had students get sick, have mental health crises, move in with different family members due to financial and economic struggles. We’ve had multiple students lose family, especially grandparents. The impact is massive. 

Is there anything else you’d like to say about your experience teaching in this new classroom format?

I’m really optimistic about the future and confident things will turn around.  It is a dark winter, but it will be a hopeful spring and an awesome summer.  Next fall will be Fabulous!

Tangela Crocker

School: Russell County High School, Seale, AL

School characteristics:

  • Size: 983 students
  • Setting: Rural
  • Demographics: Black/African American – 47%, White – 43%, Hispanic – 5%, Other – 5%
  • Statistics: Low income: 60%

Number of years teaching ECS: 5 years

Logistically, how is your ECS class different from before the pandemic?

Since Covid our system has gone hybrid, students have the option to attend virtually or traditionally. Instead of teaching two separate groups at the same time, I teach all students as if they are all virtual using the Zoom platform.  Students who attend class log on just the same as virtual students. 

How has the new classroom format affected how you teach ECS?

Students are encouraged and expected to participate by chat, reactions, or vocally.  New lessons are videoed and posted for students who miss class. Previous years’ classes were hands-on. This year really has changed the Robotics lessons.  Since I don’t have enough Edisons for everyone, I am thinking about allowing several students to take home the Edisons and prepare a virtual representation of the lesson. As I teach the lesson the student will demonstrate and I will prompt others for input and suggestions. 

Describe any challenges presented by these changes for you or for your students.

One problem is that the student video feature is turned off and thumbnail screens are black. So much of our everyday communication is expressed through body language and facial cues. Without visual cues, I have found myself seeking confirmation and verbal assessing more.  The thumbs up icon has become the number one tool.

Attendance is another issue; however, Fridays have become Parents’ Contact Day, where parents are called for failing grades or class attendance. 

Describe any benefits presented by these changes for you or for your students.

ECS classes are now more collaborative and effective communication is imperative for project completion. Without seeing each other, teams must first effectively communicate, determine how to complete the project, share documents, and depend on someone they cannot see or may not know. Gallery walks have transformed into Presentation Talks. Each group presents virtually and the class post comments and later discuss viewpoints.

Other than the classroom format, do you think COVID-19 has affected your class? If so, how?

I am constantly assessing student comprehension and participation. Students are participating more via chat and sharing screens. Virtual learning has forced us to rely on each other and solidified our learning community. More parents are involved, administrators are very present, and I am more aware of student needs. By keeping an open line of communication I not only learned students but parents as well.  

Is there anything else you’d like to say about your experience teaching in this new classroom format?

On some level, Covid has improved our classroom experience. I really think that obstacles with good perspectives can become opportunities.