Dan Jones is in his third year of teaching computer science, and his sixth year teaching special-needs students, at Whispering Pines School in Miramar, FL, where 100% of the students have an IEP, are autistic or have a medically diagnosed mental/social disorder. He holds a master’s degree in higher education administration from Florida International University, and he is currently a doctoral candidate in K–12 organizational leadership. Prior to becoming a teacher, he spent 22 years as a Cadillac and ASE-certified master technician. He received a Regional Teaching Excellence Award from CSTA in 2022, and he is the robotics and esports coach at his school. This year he’s had a blast teaching AP Computer Science, and he believes that everyone has the ability to learn computer science.
All that Dan does is informed by his desire to help his students find joy in learning. When his school rolled out a computer science initiative three years ago, Dan jumped at the opportunity to be a part of it. “I have never had more fun teaching,” he says. In a school where all the students have an IEP, he’s found that computer science is a great way to learn joyfully and collaboratively. His teaching practice incorporates “We Do” coding, where he lets his students follow along as he codes. To encourage participation, he’ll make deliberate mistakes, giving students the opportunity to jump in and tell him where he went wrong. Dan says, “I can’t stop smiling when this happens. They are learning!”
His computer science discoveries class is a space of exploration and creativity. It helps demystify the practice of computer science, and students can have fun creating their own apps and web pages. To accommodate the many learning needs of his students, Dan incorporates text readers, extended time, and teamwork into his practice, with great results. “Success is also measured by student engagement,” he says. “Is there laughter in the room? The only time the room should be quiet is when we’re taking a test.” The rest of the time, he wants to see active participation and collaboration. Dan is proud to report that out of his 96 computer science students, 92 of them have passed his class with a grade of C or higher.
In the same vein, his esports team lets students see the many skills that can be learned from playing video games, especially teamwork and strong communication. He encourages his students to think actively and critically about the games they’re playing, with group discussions on what the students would change and improve about each game.
Dan is constantly seeking out new learning opportunities to improve his teaching practice. He’s a NASA Connects member who volunteered to beta-test the new SPARX curriculum, which takes a collaborative, hands-on approach. He is taking part in a year-long fellowship with Urban Arts to teach AP computer science through video game development, and he also participated in a PD opportunity, CS Inclusion for All, that highlighted strategies for teaching computer science to special-needs students. He was a member of the first cohort of a QEM Network program designed to connect quality CS teachers of underserved students, and he will speak at an upcoming training for the next cohort.
As Dan heads into his time as a CSTA Equity Fellow, his greatest desire is to form strong connections with his cohort and find learning opportunities to improve his personal practice as a CS teacher for special-needs students. “I am open to taking as many training sessions as humanly possible,” he says. Knowing how much he has benefited from the professional development he’s experienced, Dan is eager to create PD opportunities to encourage other teachers to incorporate computer science into their teaching. “Computer science is so much more than coding!” Dan says. He’d love to create mini–computer science lessons that could be included in many different subject areas. Drawing on his background of working with special education students, he would also love to build on his CS Inclusion training to find new ways to teach computer science to all students.
Dan says, “I hope to build new friendships, so that together we can raise awareness about the inequities in computer science and help change this field for the better.”