CS teacher Montgomery County Public Schools
CS faculty University of Maryland College Park
Elias Gonzalez (right) and student intern Aaron Kyei-Asare (left) teach AP Computer Science to English Language Learners.
Montgomery County Public Schools has greatly grown its computer science program across K12. Elias Gonzalez teaches a section of AP Computer Science Principals to high school students who are all new to speaking English that is very successful. He answered some questions for us about his classes.
Q: What are some of the needs for English language learners in a computer science class?
A: Vocabulary building, in general, is very important because the students are creating meaning at the same time they are learning computer science. Community building is also even more important in these classes. Students in ELL are often separated into levels and don’t always get to connect with others at different levels. Computer Science classes bring together students across the levels in a very useful way. It can be doubly intimidating for students how are new to speaking English because so much is new: they don’t know the other students, the topic is new, and learning something new together in a supportive and collaborative way allows people to be vulnerable and succeed together.
Q: What have you done to make students in your class more successful?
A: I have an intern from UMD this year, Aaron, who knows the content well. Working together has been a great collaboration. Halfway through 1st quarter we sat down to analyze what was/wasn’t working. We realized that the tech literacy level of students was varied, and many didn’t know how to use the tools needed for online learning, and those tools and their instructions are in English. Knowing how to use the tools is not always taught directly but it is expected of students. It was important for us to simplify the process. We organized each day's work into a single slide presentation for students. Also, we put students in small groups to talk and work together but, in the beginning, students weren’t necessarily talking. We found that it worked to have medium-sized groups of 7 or so students with a teacher facilitating discussions than to break them off into smaller separate groups.
Many things have helped support students in learning AP Computer Science. We offer lots of help time and lots of office hours. It's also very useful that code.org translates content on the screen. We also found that creating videos for students was helpful.
Some background on the lead teacher: Elias Gonzalez.
In high school, Elias took AP CS and some elective CS courses in Montgomery County public schools. He found it difficult and not all that enjoyable in the beginning, but he did enjoy the challenge and the idea of being in a field where you can help others who are not well-represented
As a students at UMD he did is undergraduate degree in CS. He didn’t want to be a teacher but he had been running summer programs with kids and really enjoyed working with camps and community centers. Knowing that he wanted to work in CS and education, he was considering software development until he got connected to Terrapin teachers and joined their 1st graduating class, (the 1st CS person to join the program). Forging a new path, many questions were hard to find answers to. Then he did the MCERT masters program and taught in the magnet program at Blair HS where he taught for a year after graduating. He very much felt part of the community and was very happy there.
About the Terrapin Teachers program at the University of Maryland
This program is an opportunity to connect with more diverse students and how to grow a program and make the connection between CS/education college/high school. After noticing that few CS professors or teachers had backgrounds in effective education it was an opportunity to experience with
The program has grown each year from 0 CS classes to to 9 sections this year and hope to grow more next year with 2 CS teachers and possibly
The motivation to sign up and offer more CS department head, AP coordinator, counselors were integral to get out the right message. They could make or break the program in guiding students to pick the right courses to meet their interests and needs. Show them that the class could work for everyone. The AP designation was a detractor. Wrote letters home to explain why it’s useful for everyone.
Some background on Aaron Kyei-Asare, student intern.
Aaron is a master's student as part of the MCERT program at the University of Maryland, pursuing certification in Computer Science Education. He loves all things at the intersection of tech & education, working as a teaching assistant for intro level CS courses at UMD and teaching programming at Northwood HS.