Constellations Pivots to Research Focus in Year Three to Evaluate Program and Teacher Success

September 8, 2020
Communications Officer

Since 2018, the Constellations Center for Equity in Computing at Georgia Tech has taken a hands-on approach through the Computing Equity Project to teach computer science and offer professional development opportunities to students and teachers in Atlanta Public Schools (APS).

With Covid-19 forcing most learning to occur online this academic year, Constellations is pivoting to ensure that students and teachers are still supported through online coaching sessions and workshops, while placing more emphasis on conducting research on the program’s success so far.

Their research seeks to measure five components of learning and instruction and will be conducted by Constellations Fellows Yolanda Payne, Terry Foster, and Sababu Barashango, along with Constellations Director for Innovation and Educational Leadership Lien Diaz.

No new teachers or schools will join the Computing Equity Project program this year, allowing the research team to compare teacher progress and efficacy compared to their previous performance in the program.

Components of the Study

A core component of Constellations research is to measure a teacher’s content knowledge of computer science. Teacher efficacy will be evaluated using formative assessments and critical questioning during teachers’ collaborative planning sessions with fellows. Their progress on CodeHS’s curriculum courses will also be monitored. CodeHS is the platform the teachers use to teach advanced placement computer science courses.

The team will also be studying how teachers are implementing activities by asking questions such as, “is the teacher relying on a Constellations Fellow to run the activity, or are they able to do so independently?”

Teachers will be evaluated on how reflective they are and if they are able to decipher how students are perceiving instruction and making changes based on those reflections.

“It is very important for teachers to effectively perceive how students are receiving information and make appropriate adjustments to help their students in remote learning because it is very easy to get distracted, get discouraged, and disengage in the lesson,” said Barashango.

Barashango also explained that it is easier to hide behind a computer screen than it is to be disengaged in the classroom, but remote learning also offers options for students who are less comfortable asking for help in front of peers. With options like a private chat, virtual hand raising, and breakout rooms, online learning gives teachers the opportunity to engage with students in a variety of new ways. The center will be monitoring how they use these tools to engage with their students.

A long-term goal of Constellations is to build a community of teachers in computer science. Another component of the research will be studying how teachers engage with the teacher community, which will help the center measure its success over the past two years.

Over the years, the center has created a CodeHS Constellations Teacher Forum to help connect Constellations teachers to one another. Teachers have also been encouraged to join online learning communities like the College Board AP Community, Computer Science Teachers Association (CSTA), and various teacher support groups on social media.

Through conversations and monitoring online activity, the fellows are able to evaluate how much a teacher is contributing to the online communities.

“These communities are perfect during this time of working remotely. They are important in education because they help support the teacher in ways educators in other disciplines cannot. With the absence of many accessible entities that teach educators how to teach CS, this online community offers an opportunity for great dialogue, including learning, collaboration, problem solving, and innovation,” said Barashango.

Payne added, “Having community in education—especially in CS and in CS equity is important because it is good to know and feel that you have support. When you’re learning a new content area, it is very handy to have others who have been or are in the same place. That support helps get you through the challenging times.”

Additionally, attitudinal surveys for each teacher will be completed by an external evaluator to measure teacher’s perception of the program. The external evaluator is from Georgia Tech’s Center for Education Integrating Science, Mathematics, and Computing (CEISMC.)

Lastly, the team will evaluate teacher leadership development by offering various leadership opportunities. Opportunities will include having them co-teach a lesson with other teachers or present at a professional development workshop or CSTA chapter meeting. Constellations is hoping a few teachers will begin the process of becoming nationally board certified – a lengthy and difficult endeavor but one that the center sees as a worthwhile investment and massive marker of success for the center.

“Getting a teacher nationally board certified is important to Constellations because it is a tangible measure that indicates our impact on educators, and it can also facilitate national recognition. This means our research-based coaching is helping to produce highly qualified, diverse, and recognized CS educators and leaders,” said Barashango

Beyond the Research

Outside of conducting this research, the fellows will continue supporting teachers at their partner APS schools with virtual coaching sessions, lesson planning, building content knowledge, and student support. The center successfully hosted the Constellations Virtual Computer Science Professional Development Summit this summer with over 700 attendees from around the world. They hope to see that number continue to grow in next year’s summit and at smaller virtual workshops throughout the school year.

For the fellows this school year is, in a sense, a stress relief.

“It is a joy to come to work – whether in person or virtually – and feel like what you are doing is making a difference. This season, when it sometimes feels like nothing makes sense or is normal anymore, it’s important to have a job that I love and can measure the impact it’s having on others. It makes coping with other stresses a little easier,” said Payne.