Blog Post

Collaborative Classrooms and Absent Students

The demands of today’s work arena require students to work effectively in groups. Hence, curricula are being designed to incorporate group work. Both ECS and CSP are designed with this in mind.

All goes well with these kinds of activities—until a student is absent. How can an absent student make up the learning that happened in an active, inquiry-based, collaborative classroom where students are learning from one another?

Here is a strategy that I picked up from an English teacher that digitally simulates a rich classroom experience:

  • Maintain a blog and have absent students conduct a discussion with students who were in the class. This would provide an opportunity for absent students to hear the perspectives of their classmates.
  • Have absent students research and write about the missed content topic. This would enable them to master the concept.

Here is an example of how I implemented this in my ECS classroom. There is an activity where students invent an algorithm to sort an assortment of bags with different weights. This is a group activity where students, in groups of three, must sort all the bags by feeling and estimate the weight of the bags while lifting only two bags at a time. Each person in the group has a specific task assigned—someone who weighs the bags, a recorder, and a counter. After inventing their own algorithm, students must also sort the bags using two well-known sorting algorithms.

I ask absent students to write out their algorithm and put it on the class blog. Another student must understand the written algorithm and implement it. The algorithm is then refined via back-and-forth Q & A between the two students. In the end, the students show the steps of the algorithm with an example.

After this, the absent student must research two well-known algorithms and write about them, demonstrate them using an example, and compare them for efficiency.

This does not completely replicate the richness of the classroom experience, but it allows for the student to be heard and to hear at least one other student voice. A lot of learning can happen with the back-and-forth online discussion. This blogging activity can also help students hone their writing abilities.


Sangeeta Bhatnagar is a high school Math and Computer Science teacher in San Jose, CA. She has been teaching Exploring Computer Science (ECS) and AP Computer Science A for last five years. She is piloting the AP Computer Science Principles course this year. Sangeeta also works as an ECS facilitator.