Posted by Jacqueline Corricelli on Apr 09, 2020
Hands on a laptop keyboard
Surreal. That is the only word I can think of that best defines the current situation.

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Surreal. That is the only word I can think of that best defines the current situation. On March 20, 2020, distance learning began in our district and in my home state. Connections with anyone not in our immediate households are virtual, rather than real. That includes school for us and for our students. Here in Connecticut, the coronavirus is not supposed to peak until May 2020. As I write this in early April, I am fearful of what that will look like. I often tell my students “no good decisions are based on fear”. So, I have a secondary worry about what that fear is doing to me, to my commitment to equity, and my learning. I am using this article to remind myself and others about how and why we are uniquely poised to work together to reinvent and more importantly, why this is urgent for ourselves and our students. I will not talk about district-level challenges such as getting food to students, delivering laptops to students, and how to educate a system about these changes.  Instead, I will focus on teacher-specific challenges and some possible solutions. I will try to make this general enough that you might be able to apply it to any system. Where possible I will share links to tools that I have found helpful.

Challenge 1: You are struggling to balance the needs of yourself, your family members, and your work.  
Possible Solutions:
  • You have to structure that time. Make a schedule and stick to it.  
  • If you are finding yourself balancing a lot of online meetings consider using Calendly which integrates with the Google Suite of Tools, allowing students and/or parents to see when you are free and email you with a time they would like to meet.
  • Another great tool that also integrates with Google Calendar is Doodle which allows you to poll multiple people to find a time that works for the majority.
  • Be sure you are not leaving yourself out of your schedule. Take time to exercise, do crafts, whatever healthy habits that bring you sanity and peace of mind. Be mindful of habits that are not healthy and do not allow them to take your time and energy. Consider using an app on your phone to meditate, journal, etc.  Many, such as Headspace, are making their features free for teachers.  
  • “Touch paper once” – if you read an email, respond to it immediately as often as you can. This way you do not need to reprocess that email again. If you start considering planning work, finish that thought as much as is possible. If you are interrupted, jot a few notes so you can save processing time later.  
  • Say no – it is okay to turn down ideas for new projects and focus on yourself and your family.  
Challenge 2: You need to work out the logistics of how best to connect to students.
Possible Solutions:
  • Our district is using Google Hangouts to manage office hours. Some teachers also use Zoom.  
    • Google Hangouts Meet is a good basic tool. They have improved the interface so students can no longer mute each other and when you leave, students cannot stay in the room. 
    • Zoom is also a good tool. One feature I use quite often is the Breakout Room. This allows you to move your students into smaller subgroups to discuss a question and then bring their group discussion back to the main “room”.
    • Discord also comes highly recommended by teachers and students.  
  • Consistency is crucial.  If your district can set your schedule that is ideal.
    • We have eight periods that meet each day so on Mondays, Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Friday mornings we offer office hours in half-hour blocks for all classes. Each class meets twice each week. Mondays and Thursdays are periods 1-4 and Tuesdays and Fridays are periods 5-8.  Here is a link to our district-level plan and schedule.
    • On Wednesdays, we meet with peers to plan and students if they need more support.  
    • On Fridays, by 4 p.m., it is expected that the following week’s lessons are released to students.  
  • If you are on your own, build time to plan each day. I find that I need about three hours per day to plan for student needs.  
  • At a minimum, have something due from each student each week so you can make sure that they are doing okay and so that you have an opportunity to interact with them in some way on a weekly basis.
Challenge 3: Your district leadership team seems inconsistent or unsure or each week, so approaches change.
Possible Solutions: Remember, like you, your leadership team is figuring out how best to respond and manage while living through this pandemic. Be patient with them. In situations like this, the idea of managing up may be helpful (Duncan, 2018). To “manage up”, you may need to get a little out of your comfort zone. Rather than complaining or saying nothing, be proactive and present an alternate solution or provide information to your manager(s) so that they might make different decisions. The current situation is very fluid and it is possible that they are making the best decisions possible. Educate yourself, evaluate options, and if the following three things are true: (1) you see something that you are pretty certain that your manager did not see, (2) you are sure it will improve the situation, and (3) you and your manager have a positive relationship (McLeod), then by all means, propose your solution in a respectful and constructive manner.
Challenge 4: You want to do what you can to create interesting and engaging experiences for classes when they are online with you.
Possible Solutions: If you have time with your classes online via a tool like Zoom or Google Hangouts Meet, managing this time is crucial.  Here are some ideas:
  • If you are allowed to use Zoom, use Breakout Rooms. Ask a question that helps students integrate their learning. This would be the same type of question you might use as an opening question to start your class in a conversation.  
    • Each room should have no more than four students. One student is responsible for sharing what happened in each group.  
    • You should pop into these rooms randomly to take a pulse of the conversations and gauge if your question is working and if students are engaged.
    • If students are not engaged, you can use the communication feature to rephrase your expectations before the end of the time students are given.
  • Use online whiteboards and make student participation a grade. Here are a few you might try:
    • Scrumblr is an online whiteboard where people can add sticky notes to share group thoughts.
    • Google Jamboard is a Google Suite tool where you can add sketches, images, or sticky notes to one common place.
  • Have students create or contribute to a Wakelet in real-time to showcase their learning from the prior week or to show what they are excited to learn for the next week.
  • Have themed days such as “bring your pet to class day”, “PJ day”, or “sunglasses day”.
  • Create an online-based game to start your class. For example, toss a coin – heads or tails?  Then, toss the coin. If students do not get it correct, then they toggle their video to off, and so on, until the “winner” is determined.
  • Start with a poll on Google Classroom and let student opinion drive the direction of your class. The easiest way to “poll” on Classroom is “the create a question” option and then showcase student responses.
Challenge 5: Many people in your district see you as their resource for how they can learn to use computing tools.  This is taking a considerable amount of your time.
Possible Solutions: Remember, your coworkers may not be used to the idea of using their computer to interface with their students. Many coworkers might not know how a google search might help them. That is normally my first step. If you ask coworkers to search the problem they are having, they might be surprised how they are not the first person to have the problem that they are having. When they do this, celebrate the fact that they did this Google search and then they are on their way to solving problems on their own!
Challenge 6: Even though you are only seeing students virtually, you want to use Culturally Responsive Practices to improve student experiences and learning in your computer science class.  
Possible Solutions: Culturally Responsive Teaching seeks to include students’ cultural references in all aspects of learning. The Education Alliance Website at Brown University highlights the following characteristics (Ladson-Billings, 1994) of culturally responsive teaching: (1) Positive perspectives on parents and families, (2) Communication of high expectations, (3) Learning within the context of culture, (4) Student-centered instruction, (5) Culturally-mediated instruction, (6) Reshaping the curriculum, and (7) Teacher as facilitator.
Project-based instruction lends itself to many of these characteristics. As computer science teachers, this is not a new idea. However, I have been working on an approach to assessing projects that honors these ideas. One approach that I am considering is to have students create their own rubrics. I would use this approach for projects in any of my three computer science courses. In APCS A we are focused on FRQ Exam Prep, in APCS Principles we are focused on independent projects that will change every two weeks, and in Cryptography and Cybersecurity we are covering content (that would be assessed differently), but we are also working on projects related to classical cryptography and modern data breaches.  
If instead of my telling them what I would like them to do, I ask them to own this responsibility, the resulting project should be much more meaningful for them. However, in doing this, I want to be sure high expectations are maintained.  I plan to tell them what I hope that they will learn. This will look something like this:
From this project I hope that you…
1) learn something new about programming and/or computer science
2) have the opportunity to be creative
3) make a choice on what to do based on personal interest(s)
4) speak with someone who matters to you about what you are learning
5) use good time management so this was a positive experience each day
6) hand in a final product that you are proud of that has good grammar and attention to details such as punctuation and appearance
7) produce a final result that shows your new learning
First, I will ask students to create a plan for how they will reach these seven goals. This will be the first assignment in the project. This will give me the chance to check that they are expecting enough of themselves and that there are enough supports in place for those that need them. Then, after the project is completed, I will ask students to explain how they have reached each of these goals. In addition, I will ask them to score the extent to which they think they did so with a number from 1-5. I will also score their work against their goals.  This approach will allow me to focus on what each student needs and it will hone our shared focus on learning, rather than particular points or vocabulary on a task-specific rubric.
What I really like about this idea is that students are coming up with their own rubric so they are empowered – this means that the focus is on them rather than me. In addition, this is practical. It is physically impossible for me to individualize a rubric for each student, however, that would be the ideal. This is one way to do it. For younger students, you can change the language so it is more kid-friendly. You might even make their first “project” be creating a rubric.
Challenge 7: You want to grade students but you want to be sure those grading practices are fair.
Possible Solutions: I recommend using a mix of grading practices and tools and being flexible with deadlines.  Remember that your students may be ill, caring for a loved one, teaching their younger siblings while a parent is at work or ill, etc. You do not know what is going on in your students’ homes. Be flexible, understanding, and sensitive. If they could not attend an online session and you need to email home, be careful with your tone. Talk about how you missed seeing them and that you are wanting to check on them and know that they are okay.  Remind them you are there to help and support them. Consider exempting students from work they could not or did not complete rather than assigning 0’s.
Some ideas for assessments are:
  • Projects: Ask students deep questions that require 1-3 weeks for them to fully produce a product.  Support them with timing by having key pieces due ahead of the final product.
  • Check-Ups: Consider using Google Forms or another online test tool (here is a resource with many ideas) and have the forms provide feedback so they know what they learned and what they still need to practice.  Some tools will automatically create different forms and provide immediate feedback.
  • Participation:  Encourage participation in blogs or online chat environments.


Duncan, Rodger Dean. “Why Managing Up is a Skill Set You Need”., 26 May 2018, Accessed 4 Apr. 2020.
Heick, Terry. “Rethinking Grading in a 21st Century Project-Based Learning Environment.”, 23 Jan. 2019, Accessed 4 Apr. 2020.
Ladson-Billings, G. (1994). The dreamkeepers. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass Publishing Co.
McLeod, Lea. “10 Ways to Get Your Boss to Trust You Completely”. theMuse, Accessed 4 Apr. 2020.

About the Author

Jacqueline Corricelli headshot, a white woman with a maroon dress, long brown hair, sitting in front of a treeJacqueline Corricelli has been a public school educator since Fall 2003. She teaches AP CS A, AP CS Principles, and Cryptography & Cybersecurity at Conard High School in West Hartford, Connecticut. This is a second career for Jackie who, after earning her degree in Mathematics and Statistics, worked three years as a Radar Systems Engineer. Jackie believes that students at all levels can, and should learn computer science. Jackie’s passion for CS education goes beyond the classroom. She is a member of the Connecticut Department of Education CS Advisory Group created to improve access to and define CS education. She works as a Table Leader and Consultant for CS Principles. She is Vice President of CSTA Connecticut. Jackie has a B.A. in Mathematics and Statistics from the University of Connecticut and an M.S. in Mathematics Secondary Education from Westfield State University. She and her family reside in East Granby, Connecticut.