February 17, 2021
From February 12th-15th, 280 teachers from across the United States came together for the Infosys Foundation USA’s second annual Pathfinders Winter Institute and its fifth Pathfinders Institute overall since the program was launched in 2018. Due to travel restrictions and safety precautions, teachers gathered on the Pathfinders virtual campus for computer science and maker education professional development.
This three-day program convened 16 professional development providers to deliver coursework covering robotics, coding and computational thinking, circuitry, filmmaking and more. Teachers left the weekend equipped with new curriculum and activities to share with their students and get them excited about digital technology. In fact, the Foundation estimates that these teachers will collectively reach about 37,000 K-12 students with the skills they learned at this year’s Pathfinders Winter Institute.
While steady gains have been made in the last few years to bring computer science into more classrooms across the country, distance learning caused by the COVID-19 pandemic has slowed progress. According to a recent study by the Kapoor Institute, 42% of educators teaching computer science cited remote learning as a “major challenge,” to their computer science classes with percentages higher in lower income and rural schools. Similarly, the same study noted that 18% of teachers suspended computer science instruction completely, again with higher percentages found in lower-resourced areas. This year, 74% of Pathfinders Winter Institute teachers came from Title 1 schools. Hopefully these teachers have gained important skills to help them stay the course and continue on with their computer science classes in spite of the current challenging circumstances.
While there is no silver bullet for the range of challenges in K-12 education that have been highlighted during the COVID-19 pandemic, investing in professional development does address some key shortcomings for teachers adjusting to this new normal. It helps them establish learning communities with their peers, develop strategies for reaching and engaging their students in remote settings and build lessons for differentiated learning needs. Programs like the Pathfinders Winter Institute are crucial in helping teachers overcome some of the hurdles they face in the classroom (be it virtual or in-person) today.