After my last post on TEALS, Dan Goldin generously offered to answer some questions about his experience teaching students in Kentucky (remotely from NYC).
What class are you teaching? What are they learning now?
I’m currently teaching AP Computer Science at Lee County High School in Beatyville, KY. We’ve just finished covering the material that will be on the test and are having some fun with graphics and going over some practice AP questions.
How is it teaching remotely?
It’s challenging. I expected it to be tough on the technology front with the internet and screen sharing not always working but it’s surprisingly difficult to do the administrative work online. Since it’s remote, students will be submitting homework, quizzes, and tests online or via fax and then email. This makes grading and jotting down notes more difficult than it would be with paper. Another challenge is keeping everyone engaged which requires more effort remotely than in person. At the same time, we visited the school and it was great meeting the students and the teachers. Many people have been saying that schools and colleges will start teaching remotely and this is a great opportunity to see how it actually works and what challenges can arise.
Have there been any things that surprised you?
When I first started teaching the class I approached from a college lecturer angle but quickly discovered that that approach didn’t work with high school students. With high school students it’s important to make sure everyone is engaged with requires knowing what topics the students will have trouble with and multiple ways of presenting that information. The other surprise was how different students have different learning approaches. For some, just hearing an overview is enough while others need to visualize it to understand while others need to try it out and play with it in code before they get it.
A big surprise was how much school administration time takes up. There are field trips and club meetings that will take some students out of the classroom which makes it difficult to keep everyone on the same page since different students will be missing different topics.
Anything tougher/less tough than you anticipated?
The toughest problem has been figuring out lesson plans that will appeal to different types of students and making sure each of the students are moving at the same pace. Some students will get concepts quickly while others need a bit of reinforcement. In that situation you have to balance keeping the advanced student interested while other students may need more help. Especially in computer science where concepts build on top of one another, it’s easy to get behind so it’s dangerous to move too quickly.
I expected that we’d run into a ton of technical difficulties but for the most part we’ve been pretty successful. We’ve been using Microsoft’s Lync web conferencing software that makes it easy for us to both share our screens as well as log in to the students’ sessions so we can provide one-on-one feedback. Even with the remoteness it doesn’t feel as if we’re that far apart.
What kind of time commitment is it?
In addition to the full time teacher at the school there are 4 volunteers. Two are the main teachers and two are the teaching assistants so the work gets distributed. In our case, my coteacher, Gabe, and I alternate teaching days so we only have to prep for 2.5 days a week. In the beginning when we were ramping up we spent a lot more time ramping up and doing the administrative work but now that we’re comfortable I would say that each week involves a pretty even split between teaching and the administrative side. I would say when I started I spent around 6 hours a week on the class and now it’s closer to 4.
What to you do for a living?
I work as a data scientist/engineer at a startup in New York called TripleLift.
What would you tell a coworker who was interested in volunteering?
Give it a shot! I think it’s a great way to give back and get people interested in computer science. I know I’ve gotten lucky with my schooling that led me to where I am and it’s awesome being able to provide that experience to others.
Anything else you’d like to share about it?
Teaching remotely is only a small part of the TEALS program and most are done locally at nearby schools before the work day starts. Right now the TEALS program is looking to expand so if you have any interest in volunteering definitely attend an info session or reach out to me if you have any questions.
Thank you so much, Dan! And, I have to say, this is the first time I’ve heard someone not complain about a video conference system, so props to Microsoft Lync.