Virtual Teacher Interview: high school computer science, Maryland

When I first got to college, I’ll admit I was nervous, just like most students are! I was 3,000 miles away from home and I didn’t know a single person who went there or had gone there before. My closest relative was a 5-hour drive away. Mom and Dad helped me unpack and set up my dorm, but soon enough it was time for me to be an independent college girl.

Enter Ishan Khetarpal: my next door neighbor in my first dorm. Ishan was incredibly friendly and was as excited about everything Caltech had to offer as I was. Ishan has a zest for life, and simultaneously excels in all STEM subjects while also being a people-person. He’s compassionate, intuitive, and I can promise you he makes a great teacher. I’m proud to call him my friend all these years later.

Ishan is currently teaching at the high school he attended. And from what I’ve heard about it, it sounds like a pretty cool place to be!

Disclaimer: All of Ishan’s responses reflect his opinions only and are not those of Poolesville High School and/or Montgomery County Public Schools.

Julia: Tell me about your school and your role. What are the demographics of your school? How many students do you have? How many staff? What grades do you teach? What subjects? How long have you been there?

Ishan: I teach at Poolesville High School as a Computer Science Teacher in the Science, Mathematics, and Computer Science Magnet Program. This is my first year teaching at this school, and my first year as a compensated teacher, although I am fortunate to both be an alum of my current school, and to have trained during my student teaching year at our sister institution, the Montgomery Blair High School Magnet Program. I do not recall the numbers off the top of my head, but I think we have roughly 1000 students and roughly 80 teachers. I teach Fundamentals of Computer Science, a required course for all freshmen in my program, which is a fun and unique course because of its interdisciplinary ties to Physics, Chemistry, and Engineering. I also teach a variety of upper level electives for juniors and seniors, both in my program and other programs who have the necessary prerequisites. This year, that was Analysis of Algorithms in the fall and Artificial Intelligence in the spring.

Julia: In what ways was your school prepared for distance learning?

Ishan: One of the strong points of Poolesville High School is our sense of community. I think students and teachers really had a strong “feel” for each other prior to the unexpected closure, which allowed teachers to anticipate the needs of students. Some of my colleagues were already very savvy with the use of technology for both content and assessments, so this made an easy transition to distance learning.

Julia: In what ways was your school unprepared for distance learning?

Ishan: My teaching style centered around small group activities, discussions with a whiteboard instead of slideshows, and paper/pencil assessments, so I was challenged to adapt to a distance learning format. But it was still easier for me than for our program in general. Our programs are interdisciplinary in nature, with a “hands on” component that brings to life the various concepts from different classes. That capstone was hard to replicate in a distance learning format.

Julia: What does your typical school day and week look like now?

Ishan: My typical school day is significantly less work, but also significantly less fulfilling, than it was when we were in school. I assign work on Monday and hold hour-long lessons on Monday for each class as needed. I also try to have a “recitation” sometime later in the week for each class. Most of my week is spent designing assignments in a format that can be done independently, remotely, and asynchronously. I also allow students to book 30 minute appointments with me via my classroom page, so I can provide support to students on their schedule.

Julia: What platform do you use to teach (Zoom, Google Classroom, etc.)? What are the pros and cons of that platform?

Ishan: I used Instructure, Canvas and Zoom, which were the tools provided by the school. In addition, I implemented for students to work on coding assignments remotely, and Calendly so that students could schedule help sessions with me. The latter was extremely useful, because it automatically checked my calendar before letting students book a timeslot.

Julia: What’s the funniest thing that happened so far during distance learning?

Ishan: During one Zoom class, I accidentally yanked the ethernet cable out of my computer. This allowed me to continue listening to the class via telephone, but effectively ejected me from the meeting and made one of my students the new moderator. The new moderator promptly began playing circus music for all to hear, while the rest of the class was yelling “let Mr. K back in!”

Julia: How do you think kids are handling this time emotionally? What should other teachers and schools prioritize?

Ishan: For me, I prioritized students getting some structure and some conceptual understanding, rather than trying to cover everything I would otherwise cover. I observed it took me hours to do minutes’ worth of work, and therefore felt it would be unfair to demand large volumes of work from students.

Julia: What do you think will happen in the fall? Is full-time distance learning the future of education?

Ishan: I certainly hope to be back in the classroom, but I understand the concerns. Our entire fall course sequence is centered around hands-on interdisciplinary projects, so we have been having lots of meetings to discuss everything from assembling kits for students to take home, to rearranging the course sequence entirely.

Um, how COOL do Ishan’s courses sound!? Can I enroll!?

One of Ishan’s school’s biggest issues with distance learning was how to transition many of their hands-on experiential learning activities to be done at home. My school is similarly BIG into experiential learning, especially via field trips. Not having these was tough on both student and teacher morale.

The last thing I’ll encourage you to check out is the Poolesville HS Coronavirus/Distance Learning website. It’s incredibly comprehensive and should be something your school could perhaps try to recreate!

Thinking outside the box,


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