What does "community" mean today? In a fast-paced world where we are all running in many different directions to manage our work schedules, family obligations, and personal commitments, how do we support our communities? How do you find the time and resources to get involved?

Students at the beginning of the day getting ready to dive into the learning session and begin planning ideas for their website.

Students at the beginning of the day getting ready to dive into the learning session and begin planning ideas for their website.

This past weekend, the members of Plainview-Old Bethpage (POB) Central School District took on a unique and innovative approach to community involvement through BuildingSTEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, & Math) education. Like many school districts across the country who are seeking innovative education experiences for their students, POB partnered with WCTD to bring a one-day BuildingSTEAM technology program to their district. The goal was to introduce over 130 students in middle school ages 10-14 to the world of software development through building websites. 

Founder and CEO, Laurie Carey, addresses the high school student mentor team, laying out plans for the day's event. 

Founder and CEO, Laurie Carey, addresses the high school student mentor team, laying out plans for the day's event. 

To achieve their goal, the superintendent, teachers, administrators, high school students, and even community members built a team to support the initiative.  They were all part of the learning experience in providing a community program where everyone works together and gets out of their comfort zone to learn to design websites that addressed the vital task of solving social problems.

Student team poses for a photo during our mind mapping session, during which students use visual representations of their identity to introduce themselves to one another and get comfortable with their teammates. 

Student team poses for a photo during our mind mapping session, during which students use visual representations of their identity to introduce themselves to one another and get comfortable with their teammates. 

Teaching 21st century workforce skills is not just about teaching coding or using technology. Students began the day by being placed in diverse teams of 4 students per team.  WCTD leverages an algorithm designed to ensure that every team contains a mix of boys and girls as well as different ages to create diversity in thinking and approaches to solving problems.  Teaching the value of diversity is important in building innovative solutions and creating team dynamics where everyone has a voice in the decision making.  In order to create a positive learning experience, students engaged in a mind mapping activity to get creative and had fun introducing themselves to each other.  

Students were asked to share their values and passions for creating positive change in the world.  This naturally lead into a thinking session on how the group would work together to decide on a social issue that was important to them.  Next, students learned about the structure of the internet and how websites play a role in solving social issues.  Many students utilize technology on their phones, tablets, and other devices, but are not really educated about how the technology functions or is developed to provide the content they read. This generation needs to develop the foundational knowledge of the world they spend so many hours interacting in online in order to truly navigate the web and utilize it in a way that achieves the most good. Teaching these concepts helps students understand how to properly utilize the resources the internet offers and how to leverage those resources to solve real global issues.

Students begin working on thier projects: A website that showcases their social inniative to solve a global human problem. 

Students begin working on thier projects: A website that showcases their social inniative to solve a global human problem. 

After learning about how the internet plays a role in solving social issues, they began learning to create websites using common web design tools utilized by many organizations today. This opportunity allowed each student to setup a website and experience how easy it is to express oneself via the web.  Students were given a rubric to follow with their teams and a timeline to complete their projects, which gave their projects a deliberate focus while promoting autonomy in their thinking.  Through working on their designs, they were tasked with demonstrating their competency in building a website, researching the social issue, explaining how they would address the social issue, and capturing all of the content in their website. Each team then presented their final project at the end of the day.  The high level of autonomy in planning and execution allowed the students to get creative and passionate about their cause.  The results, as WCTD has seen again and again at these programs, is that students of all ages - when given the right guidance, tools, and autonomy to be creative - will produce work that is astounding every time. Throughout the day, students stretched outside their comfort zones and had fun learning together.

Getting down to business: students work together planning and developing their idea through brainstorming and autonomous research.

Getting down to business: students work together planning and developing their idea through brainstorming and autonomous research.

The POB team worked as volunteers throughout the day supporting the students' learning experience.  Many POB high school students volunteered as mentors to work with the middle school students to support their success. There was no prerequisite requirement on the part of the volunteers to understand how to build a website, only the desire to learn and to support teaching the younger students. The WCTD team facilitated the training and overall program with a goal to empower the district to bring a valuable STEAM program to their students.  As was shown during the POB event, WCTD creates positive momentum in districts, where teachers are learning along with the students how to integrate 21st century workforce skills into the classroom. 

Student mentors from Plainview-Old Bethpage High School pack prize bags for participants. 

Student mentors from Plainview-Old Bethpage High School pack prize bags for participants. 

This model or partnership with school districts like POB allows our organization to impact a greater number of students while supporting professional development for teachers at the same time.  Engaging the high school students as mentors provides leadership opportunities for students and positive role models for younger students. Engaging the entire community in the BuildingSTEAM program demonstrates the dedication to education by everyone and how important it is as a community to learn together.

Tower building as a team. One of the many activities WCTD leverages to get teams to bond during events.

Tower building as a team. One of the many activities WCTD leverages to get teams to bond during events.

There were multiple positive outcomes that developed from the program for the school district.  Students in 8th grade experienced the value of computer science as a direct result of participating in the program. During the following week, it was reported that students had shown more of an interest in computer science related subjects, and were adjusting their schedules for their ninth-grade classes to incorporate more computer science courses.  As a result of the students' newly piqued interests, the school is considering holding this program earlier in the year to coincide with guidance conversations and course planning for 9th grade. The district also experienced students taking a strong interest in continuing to work on their projects after the program concluded, demonstrating again the strong connection this program provided for creating an interest in something valuable for their future.  The one unexpected value to the district was the ability to test the success of their 1:1 device initiative by having over 130 plus students working on the wireless network during the program activities.  This experience supported the district IT staff in knowing that the district's infrastructure can handle the extreme use of technology in a learning environment.

The winning teams pose for a photo at the end of the day's presentations

The winning teams pose for a photo at the end of the day's presentations

To learn how to bring this program to your school you can visit us at http://we-connect-the-dots.org or contact us at events@we-connect-the-dots.org

Parents joined at the end of the day to watch their students present some very impressive projects

Parents joined at the end of the day to watch their students present some very impressive projects

Posted
AuthorStephen Sobierajski