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A couple of weeks ago the winners of the 2015 Technovation challenge were announced. For those who don’t know, the Technovation Challenge is a global entreprenuership competition for girls in middle school and high school. Teams of girls must design and build a mobile app that solves a problem in their community. In addition to creating the app, they must also create a video pitch, demo video, and write a business plan for their app. It is truly a global competition, and was exciting to see that teams of girls from 60 different countries entered the competition. My students created an app called Politics on Point to get teens more involved in politics and be more politically informed. It was a phenomenal process and at the end of the process, my students were transformed. You can read more about their app here. The high school winners were a team from Nigeria, below is their video pitch. A list of all finalists and semifinalists can be found here.
As participants we were able to see all of the apps created by other teams. I acted as a judge for the Asia teams and was so inspired by all the apps that I judged. One that really touched my heart was created by a team from India. This group of girls was from the slums of Dharavi in Mumbai where community problems for women and girls are pretty serious and that’s what they chose to focus on with their app Women Well Being. Competitions like this are at the heart of getting more girls thinking early about careers in technology and leveling the playing field in computer science.
I can’t believe I haven’t written a blog post since the beginning of the school year back in August. It’s been that kind of year! Busy, busy, busy. I can honestly say I am really proud of some of the tech initiatives I was able to support at Saint Mary’s School this year. I hope to do more in depth reflections on some of them, but for now here is a quick overview of a few things that went decidedly well:
Canvas LMS Implementation
Bringing in a whole new technology product that students and teachers are expected to use extensively was a little terrifying. Ultimately, my job is to support faculty in their use of technology and the fear of any technology facilitator is to garner the resentment of the people you are there to support, because you chose a tool that is cumbersome, ineffective, or simply doesn’t do the job it was supposed to do. I am happy to report that this was not the case with Canvas. It was a good year with Canvas. I think the fact that all teachers were required to use it and now are fairly comfortable with using it on a basic level is huge for the first year of implementation. They also see now that the work they do is saved and can be built upon for future years. Also, we had a great group of early adopters who did some inspiring things with Canvas and shared them with the community. I can honestly say I have learned Canvas inside and out and as far as learning management systems go, I really like it. What I appreciate most about Canvas is it’s flexible structure, great support, and constant improvement. New features are always popping up both small fixes and major improvements.
Bringing Betabox to Saint Mary’s was a treat and a luxury. Betabox is a portable maker space that contains state of the art tech tools like 3D printers and laser cutters. Additionally, Betabox provides facilitators who help students understand design thinking and the process of rapid iteration. Betabox came for 3 days to Saint Mary’s School and involved students in 3D modeling and printing, personal brand design, and phone charger building to name a few of the projects. Click here for a more in depth description of the visit.
Computer-Based Projects Class
Building a course from scratch is a ton of work especially when you are learning how to do some of the activities in the course right a long side your students. Curriculum design is a huge passion of mine and I had so much fun designing and teaching this course. I had a small, yet diverse group of juniors and seniors take this course. I used the new AP CS Principles curriculum (which is amazing on so many levels) as my guide and spent a lot of time crafting lessons and curating content that I thought would appeal to girls. My students learned important computer science principles, the basics of programming with Python, worked with Raspberry Pi’s and built mobile apps. There is plenty out there that speaks to the passions and interests of girls and it was fun collecting it all in one space and really getting a sense of what works and doesn’t work with girls. This course also provided the opportunity to experience Canvas as a teacher which was very helpful in learning the tool inside out.
Youth Talk Project
Global collaboration has always been a passion of mine. The Youth Talk Project allowed for a much more extensive collaboration than I have ever had the opportunity to get involved in and it was a big success. This 6 month long collaboration with a school in Palestine included 5 video conferences and a collaborative project that dealt with an issue in the community. One of the most important skills the girls learned was how to ask complete questions and how to be culturally sensitve. Al Fata A school was amazing and I felt it was an important opportunity for our students to connect with students in the Middle East. The Recycled Art Gardens that the two school created were unique and creative. Here is a short video of the process and finished gardens.
This was my proudest moment in all my years as an educator. The Technovation Challenge was precisely that, a challenge. My students not only had to come up with a good idea for a mobile app, they also had to design and program it, write a business plan, and create a video pitch and demo video. This was such an empowering project on so many levels. It was amazing at the end to see all the apps created by teams of girls around the world. It has really opened my eyes to an important means of teaching teens important computer science skills. Mobile app developments hits on so many important concepts within computer science and I am looking forward to further developing this curriculum and learning more about mobile app development. Here is the demo of the app my students created. You can read more about the app here. The prototype is also available on the Google Play store.
App Inventor is a software program developed at Google Labs that allows people to build mobile apps easily using a visual interface. MIT took over the project and has developed an impressive support network for educators to use this application to build mobile apps. I attended the 3rd Annual MIT App Inventor Summit on July 17th and 18th held at the MIT Media Lab in Boston. As if getting to spend two days at the MIT Media Lab wasn’t exciting enough, the community brought together by this summit represented a diverse international group ranging from students and educators from around the globe to researchers and public policy makers doing innovative work with App Inventor. It was an inspiring two days in an intimate setting that left me eager to get students involved with App Inventor and the various App challenges that have sprung up to give students a forum to build innovative apps that solve community problems.
The Keynote speaker was Jose Gomez-Marquez who works in the Little Devices Lab at MIT where he explores his passion to provide affordable, practical DIY options for health workers in developing countries. We heard about some of the projects including Solarclave using solar energy to sterilize medical equipment and their latest project MakerNurse that encourages nurses around the world to share their hacks to patient care issues. He also talked about using APP Inventor to build the Smart Birth App to help expectant mothers and skilled birth attendants in the birthing process.
The summit was set up with a focus on lightning talks and panels, so that participants got a tremendous sense of the myriad of ways App Inventor is being deployed and the possibilities that exist with this open source software. Here is a list of some of the topics covered:
- App Inventor in Education
- App Inventor in Research
- Teaching with App Inventor
- Experience in Using App Inventor
We heard from Oakland high school students who were involved with NPR’s Youth Radio and were tasked with designing and building mobile apps for the program. We heard from Judy Ho, Director of Curriculum Development at Technovation Challenge which sponsors an all-girls App Challenge and Global Technology Entrepreneurship Program. We learned how districts, schools and countries around the globe are using App Inventor to drive interest in computer science. One of my favorite presentations was hearing from Jeremy Scott from Scotland’s National Academy who shared his I Love My Smartphone Curriculum with us. It was surprising to hear that the same issues that plague CS education in the US are also found in places like Ireland and China. Hearing from researchers at MIT, Stanford and other universities was exciting as it truly highlighted the democratic possibilities of App Inventor. We also got to go to Google who hosted an evening reception for us on the first day of the summit.
What was most impressive was how approachable and willing to share everyone was at the conference. There was ample opportunity to talk with presenters and you just got the sense that everyone wanted to be part of a community that shares their successes and challenges with the software to help educate and excite future generations about computer science and utilize it to solve global problems. I was absolutely delighted and inspired by this passionate community and hope to come back next year with students and greater insight once I have spent a year working with App Inventor in the classroom.
Okay, so I am not talking about George Foreman, the legend, the one who fought Ali, Frazier and Norton, or for those who don’t know boxing the George Foreman of George Foreman Grills fame, but rather his son…though George Foreman named all of his sons George Foreman, so let me clarify George Foreman III also known as “Monk”. I had the opportunity to travel to Boston where I had a training session with “Monk” at his luxurious boutique boxing gym dowtown called The Club by George Foreman. It is seriously the most beautiful, well-equipped gym boxing or otherwise that I have ever been to and I have been to some nice ones. When you walk in the gym there is a staircase down to the gym and one up to the organic juice bar and second level. A bronze statue of an old school heavy bag and gloves is at the entrance which immediately lets you know you are some place special. As you enter the gym from downstairs, it opens up to a large space that holds two rings and a fantastic mural that blasts the motto of the gym: Everybody fights. There are additional rooms for weights, heavybags, a fitness studio and speed bags. The gym has a great vibe that makes you want to work hard. On the second floor of the loft like space are cardio machines and a physical therapy space as well as the locker rooms which contain a steam room and sauna and resemble that of a spa.
George Foreman III is actually the second son of George Foreman and it’s not just his 6’5 frame, but also his smile that resembles that of his father. He attended boarding school in Boston when he was a child, and although he was around boxing constantly as a child, he didn’t really take up the sport until later in life. His father would not allow him to box until he had a college degree. Monk got his degree in Business and Sports Administration from Rice University and managed his father’s business empire for a while. But the boxing itch got to him and his father agreed to train him. For 5 years, he trained and competed as a professional boxer compiling a record of 16-0 with 15 KOs. A couple of years ago, he decided to make the move back to Boston to start his gym which has been open since January of 2014.
My training sesssion with Monk was intense and thorough. I started with shadow boxing and in between rounds talked with Goerge about my upcoming fight and training. We worked mitts and then he had me work on defensive drills. Monk gave me pointers and corrected me when I was doing anything wrong. We finished up with a variety of exercises.
I came early in the morning before many people were in the gym, but by the time I left the gym was in full swing. The Club offers every possible type of class from yoga, spin to core training. The equipment in the gym is plentiful and new. To learn more about the gym you can visit their website: http://everybodyfights.com. If I lived in Boston, I would want to workout here. It was definitely a highlight of my trip to Boston.