Corona, Computer Class, and Consolation

Three lessons learned amidst a pandemic.

Lesson 1: Computer Science Does Matter

So, I'm going to open by saying that I have never been more convinced of the need for an actual "Computer Class". I'm painfully aware of this thanks to the global pandemic that is COVID-19. My Students have been sent home with their iPads, and I have been called upon to teach them my Computer Science Class remotely.

Over the last few years, as students have found themselves in possession of "devices" throughout their school day, thanks to 1:1 programs, usually with Chromebooks and iPads, many districts have sadly asked themselves the question, “Why do we need a computer class?”. Even more sadly, many have given up their Computer Science curriculum, at least in the K-8 realm. Hopefully, without sounding classist or making this a politically charged issue, I can make the assertion that iPads and Chrome Books, as well as the myriad smart phones that most people carry every day, are consumer devices. Personal computers are still very much creator devices. Yes, there are a lot of cool things that students can "create" for their Social Studies,  Science, and English classes on iPads & Chrome Books. What I’m pointing out, is that there are no post-graduation situations in which there is a great demand for employees to make a Flip Grid, complete a Goose Chase, design a Pic Collage, or do a Quizlet. They may very well be asked to develop a front end for their inventory database or design a custom template for their company CMS driven web portal or mock up a logo for the charity fun-run t-shirts. None of these things can be done well on an iPad, at least not with the apps we have.

Yes, there are limited possibilities, on iPad for example, to create. iMovie and Garage Band have both gotten more robust on iOS devices. What about game development, though? Is there anything like Unity or Unreal or even GDevelop? Is there anything for serious coding? What do we have for that?  How about computer aided drafting? There's really nothing comparable to Sketchup for iPad. Adobe has some decent beginner – level graphic design apps, but if you have students under the age of 13 (& your gate keepers look closely at the ToS) you’re out of luck there as well. For the most part, design and development is severely limited, particularly when there are gate keepers involved, who decide what apps the kids can add. Yes, there are some decent web apps that work right in your browser, but not in Safari on an iPad. Again, if you have gatekeepers, you may only get Safari, and an alternative browser, like Chrome, is out of the question. Bottom line: Kids need a computer to be a serious creator (or "Maker" to use the parlance of our times), and there's is a definite place for a computer science class.

Lesson 2: Your Learning Management System wasn't designed for Kids...

Don't know about LMS? Click here.
First, while my Bachelors degree is in Secondary education, I have a Masters degree in Adult Education and Online Learning. I feel that gives me some authority when I say that most Learning Management Systems (Blackboard, Canvas, Schoology, etc) are built around the learning theory of Andragogy, or how adults learn. Meanwhile, most codified expectations of quality Pedagogy, how kids learn best, such as the Danielson Framework used to judge the performance of so many of today's teachers, are built an underlying value of behaviorist thought, which is the antithesis of Andragogy. There's nothing inherently wrong with this. The assumption is simply that kids learn differently from adults based on their different stages of development and different inherent motivations. 

That said, you may have big plans for a brilliant threaded asynchronous discussion in your Schoology course, only to find that out of the 50% of your students who participated, 30% didn't post their replies as replies, but just randomly out in the discussion board somewhere with no context and so many pronouns that you have no idea what they're talking about. Meanwhile, of the missing 50%, roughly 15% of them send you a new email daily, saying that they're not sure what they need to do this week (when it's clearly posted the same place it has been the last two times they emailed you) or saying they're not sure they are enrolled in your class (despite having received 3 emails from you with a screenshot of them in your course members list). You can make screencasts and post to your "Help Forum", and email step-by-step instructions, but it's not going to do you any good. In fact, you'll probably have to calm down some parents who are more frustrated than their kids are. Why?

Our kids aren't wired or conditioned to learn this way. YOUR PRESENCE IS ESSENTIAL!
What's more, their parents probably have several kids, are working from home, taking care of an elderly relative, or even trying to figure out food and bills while not being paid. No matter how cool the gamified quest is that you've designed, they don't have the mental or emotional real-estate to figure it out. You may have heard "Grace over Grades" enough times that it washes over you, but seriously, let's cut everyone some slack.

Like, no kidding. How stressed out are you right now with your own progeny, and you know all this stuff? Imagine never having seen a Flipgrid, and suddenly your middle child has one that's two days overdue, while your oldest can't figure out his math assignment (what on earth is the point of a stem and leaf chart anyway??), and your youngest needs you to help her upload her phys. ed. assignment, but your cellular hotspot is telling you you've exceeded your monthly data, and, while you have "unlimited data", your speed is being throttled down. 

Possibilities, presence, and the pain of disappointment.

Honestly, I was super excited at the outset of this adventure to use all of my awesome online learning chops and to try the plethora of tools that were suddenly free. Imagine my rapid descent into despondent melancholy when I found out:
  • My whole curriculum is pretty much trash on the iPad; forget teaching anything I normally teach.
  • The gate keepers who decide what gets added to the iPads and what doesn't don't really want to make many changes without a near act of congress.
  • Kids and Parents are overwhelmed enough with Schoology and Google Classroom and Flipgrid, that they don't care whether you use Classcraft at all, premium features or no.
  • I was going to spend most of my time with a spreadsheet trying to figure out whom has posted what where and whether I've completely lost anyone.
On top of this, many of us are now living in Limbo, or the liminal state of working from home. We're at home, but we're also at work. Our families wonder what the heck we're actually doing with our time and why we're not mowing the lawn right now or ripping plaster out of that old farmhouse or helping one of our kids with their Pic Collage project...

The Consolation

In all of this crazy, I find consolation in the following.
  1. I have seen my teaching colleagues rise to this challenge in a way that should leave the public with no doubt as to the value, professionalism, and care of our nation's teachers.
  2. I have seen administrators not only lead, but also inspire and encourage. 
  3. I "miss my job" in the business as usual sense, so much, that it just reinforces that teaching is what I was made to do. I miss walking onto my classroom in the morning so much some days that I could cry.
So, here's hoping that things get back to some semblance of normalcy for the fall. Y'all are doing great work out there. Hang on. We've got this. 


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