Blog Post

Community Spotlight: Audra Kaplan

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Each month, we highlight a member of the CS for All Teachers community.

Audra Kaplan

 

Audra Kaplan

Name: Audra Kaplan

Occupation: Digital Learning Coach

Workplace: Groton-Dunstable Regional School District (Groton, MA)

Years in education: 20

Years teaching computer science: 2

 

TEACHING COMPUTER SCIENCE (CS)

What interests you about CS?

Computer science is a fun and challenging way of thinking that impacts just about everything we do. It is important for us as educators to ensure that our students are introduced to, and encouraged to learn more about, computer science so they can better understand our world and their future.

How did you start teaching CS? Do you have a background in CS?

Just out of college, I struggled to find a full-time teaching job. I was my biggest obstacle, thinking that I had to be “the best” person for the job. Teaching is a humbling career, and who was I to say I was “the best?” Long story short, I started working at the local telephone company, Southern New England Telecommunications Corporation (SNET Co). About a year into my employment, after my third promotion, I was accepted in a Y2K training program where my programming skills expanded beyond my VCR and my interest grew. My professional experience at SNET Co. helped build the confidence that I lacked as well as sparked my interest in computer science.

How have your CS students inspired you? What is your favorite CS project you have completed with your students?

I most enjoy working with colleagues and students to bring more computer science into the classroom. As a digital learning coach, my primary goal is to help teachers integrate various technologies so that they can learn new ways to introduce a curriculum and engage students. Last year, the elementary school librarian and I collaborated on a research project with the third-grade classes. After students identified two animals, they researched details about each animal before mashing them into one. Their new creations had to adapt to new environments and ways of life, e.g. habitat, predator and prey. With Scratch, students used their own drawings, dialogue, and changing backgrounds to show the animals in their new environments, all while demonstrating their skills. They were so excited to work on this project. Collaborative projects like these, where I work with colleagues to integrate computer science into their content areas, are most rewarding.

How do you recruit students into your CS classes?

All fifth-grade students are required to take my class. When recruiting for clubs and programs outside of school, I find the most effective means for both students and teachers is through face-to-face conversation. I also use social media to promote activities and events.

 

CS EDUCATION COMMUNITY

How do you get other teachers, administrators, and community members excited about CS?

There are three events that come to mind: Hour of Code, the Technovation Challenge, and something I called the Digital Cafe. While working at our high school, I started running Hour of Code activities. Teachers had the option to run an event themselves, or invite a parent, student, or me to lead events in their classrooms. Initially I recruited a small group of interested students to run events. We had 15 separate sessions throughout the building with a variety of options from Lightbot and Hopscotch to App Inventor and Hello Processing. One student lead Scratch sessions in Spanish for the Spanish classes during his sophomore, junior, and senior years. He was perfect and had a lot of fun! The second year, I trained my ECS students to become CS ambassadors. They spent the day traveling to the elementary and middle schools to run and assist with coding activities. It was very rewarding for all the students - as leaders and participants. While at the high school, I organized an annual trip to the UMass Amherst Women in Engineering Career Day. When I learned from the Computer Science Teachers Association of Greater Boston (CSTA Greater Boston) about the Technovation Challenge, I jumped at the chance to get a team together. I was able to recruit several young women who attended this field trip to form a team. It was a lot of work, but very rewarding for all of us. My team, Helping Hands, was pre-selected as a finalist for the regional event in Boston. One of the team members stayed on board for several years and, I’m happy to say, is currently taking computer science courses at Worcester Polytechnic Institute.

What excites you most about the current state of CS education in the US?

There is still a lot of work to do to make computer science a required part of most school programs. With an already heavy load of required courses and administrative obligations, many districts and teachers don’t have the time to squeeze it in. I’m glad to see that progress has been made, and some school districts are spearheading this movement. We are starting to see changes - I just wish these changes would happen faster. We are doing a disservice to our students and teachers if we do not give them the tools they need to succeed in today's world. Computer science is a part of every aspect of our lives, from typing this response, to shopping, applying for jobs, global communication, and so much more.

What do you enjoy most about participating in CS for All Teachers?

As with all aspects of teaching and learning, what I enjoy most is collaborating with other like-minded people to share ideas and perspectives. I love to learn, and technology is constantly evolving. It is impossible to keep up with new tools as well as the plethora of social media channels. On the flip side, I dislike working in isolation, as can be the case with computer science and as a digital learning coach, since there are generally too few of us in a district if at all. The CS for All Teachers community provides collaborative spaces for people to share ideas and opportunities. It is communities like these that help to nurture and grow computer science education.

Besides the CS for All Teachers community of practice, what is your favorite CS tool or resource?

The Computer Science Teachers Association (CSTA) has afforded me many opportunities to grow as an educator. When I first started attending meetings with the CSTA Greater Boston chapter, I learned about so many tools and possibilities, namely, App Inventor, the Hour of Code, and the Technovation Challenge. This past October, the New England CSTA chapters ran our second annual New England Conference. It's exciting to work with so many talented and passionate educators. Stay tuned for details on #cstaNE2019.

What is the biggest piece of advice you would give to potential CS educators?

Become a part of the CS community; you will make new friends and have a wealth of resources to tap into. I continue to make new friends and learn about new tools and interesting ways to use old ones during our meetings and at conferences. As the newly elected co-president of the CSTA Greater Boston chapter, I am excited to work inside of the CS community to help teachers identify resources and hone their craft. I'm also excited to work with the Department of Education, higher ed, and the community at-large to create opportunities for our students to become responsible and successful digital contributors to society.

 

TELL US MORE!

What is your proudest professional accomplishment?

Outside of enthusiastic and engaged students, my proudest professional accomplishment was being nominated by CSTA Greater Boston for the national CS 100 Teachers Meeting in Washington, D.C. in 2014. Although I didn’t get to meet President Obama at the White House, Hadi Partovi of Code.org was there, and I was lucky to snap a photo with him during the two-day event.

Write a poem or haiku describing what teaching CS is like.

Student Choice is Voice

Engaging and Creative

All Things Possible

What do you do to recharge after a long day (or week, month, year, etc.) of teaching?​

When school is out, I enjoy building strong leaders in my Girl Scout troop, listening to great music, and traveling with my family. We love to go on adventures and experience the world around us whether we take a long drive around New England, run video at one of our favorite music festivals, try a new food, or fundraise with our Girl Scout troop. I’m excited for the trip our girls are going on this spring to the NASA Space Camp in Huntsville, AL and proud to say they have fundraised nearly the entire cost of their trip - that's 16 sixth-graders at a cost of just over $800 each. Although that’s a lot of cookies sold, our girls ran many other events, including an annual pinewood derby, a town-wide camporee, a yard sale, holiday bazaars, and more.