Back To School

by Edwin Galan | 10/16/2018

For more than 25 years, Edwin Galan has been a teacher. He currently works as a high school math and computer science teacher at a Title 1 school in the Los Angeles Unified School District where 99% of the students receive free lunch. He recently attended Pathfinders Summer Institute via DonorsChoose and matching funds where he received training in The Beauty and Joy of Computing which prepares students to take the AP CS Principles exam.

This summer I had the amazing opportunity to take a walk down memory lane to my days in college. Thanks to donations by my coworkers and by the generous matching grant by Infosys Foundation USA, I was able to attend the Pathfinders Summer Institute, a weeklong professional development focused on computer science and at the University of Indiana in Bloomington. From the moment I arrived on the campus until the minute I left 6 days later, I felt completely immersed in the college experience.

We were all housed at one of many of the on-campus dormitories within walking distance of campus eateries and a hop-skip away from our perspective classrooms. I signed up for the Beauty and Joy of Computing class. I was happy to learn upon my arrival to class, that I would be in class with 7 other teachers. I have been to other professional development courses where conference rooms are jammed packed with hundreds of teachers, making it certain that questions and personal help are almost nonexistent. There we were in a classroom where we could all see the boards and monitors, and could hear each other’s voices as well as that of our instructors and assistants.

From the minute class started, we were all students again. Exploring, experimenting, and making mistakes, just like our students will when we return to our jobs and run this very class for the first time. We worked through the labs, learning about the mistakes that students will undoubtedly make, and learning how to navigate providing assistance without providing the solutions to the assigned problems. As we worked through the curriculum we learned about how to help students prepare for the Computer Science Principles Advanced Placement Exam. The instructors and assistants were all very well versed in the software being used and in the alignment to the AP Exam in the curriculum.

We spent each day exploring the software (Snap!), exchanging ideas for presenting the curriculum to students, sharing best classroom practices, and learning how to use Snap! to write our own code. The best feeling was knowing that at the end of each day, none of us would have to drive, take a bus, or catch a train to get home only to repeat the journey back the next day. When class was over in the classroom, many of us returned to our dorm, ate dinner, refreshed ourselves, and then met into the late evening to work together on the assignments. Then, at our leisure, we retreated into our rooms, had a restful night, and were ready to go at it again, bright and early the next day.

Like all great things, the week came to an end. We said our goodbyes, exchanged contact information, and made vows to be there for each other in support when needed. A few weeks after my return to Los Angeles, California, it was time to return to work, or school, depending how you look it, and implement the strategies I learned during my week at the Pathfinders Summer PD for CS.

The high school where I teach is a Title 1 school with a significant Latino population (87%). Most of those (75%) are foreign born, coming from Mexico, Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras, Nicaragua, and Spain. The other 13% include African-American, Korean, Filipino, Bangladeshi, Indian, Chinese, and Mongolian students. Many of our immigrant students speak their country’s native language, plus other dialects. Some of our Latin American do not speak Spanish well but are fluent in one or more indigenous dialects and are considered to be Second Language Learners in their native country. Children in this category are taught in English and Spanish as they are in classes where the majority of the kids speak Spanish. About 30% of our students receive Special Education services. Our school also services students with a wide range of disabilities (learning, hearing, vision, physical), as well as war trauma, domestic violence and rape, and trauma due to the conditions and situations encountered during their trip to the U.S. (i.e. illegal immigration).

We are now in our eighth week of school. My students are diligently working through the BJC curriculum. They have taken to programming more smoothly than I had expected. Some of my students have such enthusiasm about the course, that they have made it a habit to spend one or two hours per week going ahead on their own at home. I am fortunate to have a full set of Chrome books in my classroom. Some of my students somehow manage to do their work on their own iPads, iPhones, and Android phones as well.

This is the third year we are offering a computer science class at my high school. The first two years I had classes of 15 and 12 students. After students heard about the type of program we would be doing and that it would be offered as an AP class, we enrolled 25 students ranging in grades from 10 to 12. The number of students in this class is significant (6%) since our student body population is only 390. The class is made up of 9 males and 16 females, which is quite an amazing ratio, almost 2 to 1.

As the course is progressing, the rigor is increasing. I am glad I attended the Pathfinders PD because there are some things I might not have figured out on my own, had I not received the tips and recommendations from the PD instructor and her assistants. Plus, when I am stuck and cannot help my students, I simply go online and post a question to my fellow PD attendees and within the hour someone will post an enlightening response.

I want to thank all the parties that made my attendance to Pathfinders Summer Institute in Bloomington possible: Infosys Foundation USA, donorschoose.org, University of Indiana, my co-workers who helped sponsor my trip, and my principal for supporting my desire to offer this course at our school.