[CASE STUDY] Improving Accessibility and Direction in Computer Science

[CASE STUDY] Improving Accessibility and Direction in Computer Science
February 16, 2022 5 min read

Third-grade students at Mylan Park Elementary explored and applied computer science basics while their teacher developed new skills for teaching with tech tools. 

The Approach

During their Innovation Lab time, 3rd-graders learned about computer science and debugging. 
Their teacher, Jennifer Reaves, utilized lessons from TRAILS’ “All TRAILS Lead to Computer Science” Series. 
Using mixed media, both digital and physical, students explored and practiced new computer science skills over the course of five 45-minute sessions. 

The Challenge & Goals


Clear direction and instruction are crucial to helping students develop their critical thinking skills. One common instance that puts critical thinking to the test is when students are asked to “check their work”, but aside from those three words, there isn’t much direction for students to work off of. Without clear structure or specific instruction to do so, they are often left feeling lost, leading to “students looking at their [work] for a brief moment, saying ‘I checked it’”, and not making any real progress when it comes to critical thinking and self-editing. 

It’s not just students that can benefit from clear direction. Educators can also feel directionless when approaching a new concept in their classroom, especially if that concept is new to the teacher themselves. They can look to online tools for inspiration on how to teach but not all ready-made lessons/teaching resources are created equal. Some lack the quality, standards-alignment, and ease-of-use that classrooms require for high-level instruction. 

Teacher Tech Fluency & Meaningful Technology Integration

Many times, new technology is introduced into the classroom and expected to instantly impact instruction for the better. In reality, many teachers wind up teaching the same material, the same way, using 1:1 devices “like a glorified textbook.” 

In order to make investments in educational technology meaningful impactful to the learning experience, teachers need to be empowered and supported in making an instructional shift using these new tools. 


“Many times when [teachers] come across a computer science curriculum, it relies heavily on 1:1 access to a student device.” In order to provide equitable access to computer science education, educators need to have ways to introduce computing concepts in ways that don’t require access to actual computers.


Jennifer Reaves helped 3rd-graders in her Innovation Lab explore computer science with the help of TRAILS Digital Lesson Library’s “All TRAILS Lead to Computer Science” series. 

Giving Direction to “Checking Work”

After learning the basics of coding with Lessons 1-3 in the “All TRAILS Lead to Computer Science” series, students were introduced to the concept of debuggingin, “What is Debugging”. This TRAILS lesson begins with a brief history of debugging, followed by steps and best practices of debugging, and coming to a head as students apply what they have learned. 

“I love that this lesson explicitly taught students to ‘debug’ their work by going back through their program in a systematic way.“ stated teacher, Jennifer Reaves. 

This prevented students from aimlessly checking their work, needing to start over completely, or haphazardly patching code at the end to “make it work.”

High Engagement & Pride in Product

“Student engagement was very high during the lesson,” said Reaves. 

“I love that the students worked with partners in a ‘pair-programming’ style situation where they could rely on their partner for support. This allowed students to try and talk out solutions with their partner, work through the systematic steps and eventually be proud to share their solutions with the whole group.”

“Having students apply what they have learned with the support of a partner makes this a powerful real-world collaborative task.”


While teaching the TRAILS lessons, Reaves was introduced to new tech-based teaching tools, and novel ideas of how to use common resources to teach computer science in a new way. 

Within the “All TRAILS Lead to Computer Science” series, she was able to play with tools like Jamboard, Google Workspace, and YouTube, learning-as-she-taught about new ways of integrating technology in the classroom. 

Fully Accessible Computer Science Education

It’s hard to imagine computer science without… well… computers, but not all students have equal access to 1:1 devices. Being able to teach computer science without relying 100% on immediate access to computers gave Jennifer Reaves the opportunity to equitably teach computer science to all students in her Innovation Lab. 

“I love that this lesson could be completed with students without any devices and just a teacher station or teacher device.”

“This lesson continues to make computer science curriculum available and accessible to all students no matter where they live or what access they have.”

Powerful Technology Integration

“When we take this lesson and then integrate technology it only makes this lesson more powerful for student collaboration, engagement, and fun while driving the concepts and strategies around debugging home.”

When computer science is taught through effective tech integration it is a game-changer for how students learn, explore and interact with content in a new and powerful way.

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