I am determined that the three years I share with my Tech Academy 10th-12th graders must count for something more than a certificate at graduation and a hug goodbye. There is a growing economic gap in the US and as a teacher I concentrate on the skills, experience and proof my students leave high school with so that they can use it to their advantage to get jobs and scholarships and create opportunities for themselves.
Since 2010 I have moved all of my students to online digital portfolios and resumes that they begin in 10th grade and manage and update every semester. This trend of portfolios is reaching the colleges and make all my students more competitive and prepared for their future. The juniors take programming courses that give them official certificates of completion and the seniors do a capstone marketing campaign where they form business teams that tackle a community issue. The teams build a prototype and then launch a marketing campaign to build awareness.
Every year the capstone project goes through a new iteration to make it stronger. Over the years I have built in scaffolding deadlines for practice presentations, drafts of posters, and producing a marketing event to test the viability of the campaigns. These deadlines keep the groups on task and on time but it also eliminates the restlessness the students get in the middle of the project. Students are used to short spurts of work and then move onto the next thing. They need to learn endurance and how to work on a single idea for a long stretch of time - also known as a job.
For 2014-2015 school year, the teams formed in the Fall when each individual pitched an app idea to a team of software developers. The judges selected the top seven ideas and teams were formed. Each team got a mentor to conference with every other week to help brainstorm and troubleshoot their plans.
It was challenging to add the app building component because it took a long time to define the concept and flesh out a wire frame model to see how the app would look. However the process did build communication and problem solving skills. Every group successfully pitched their work, applied for the Verizon App Challenge and four groups presented their app ideas at the SET Awards - an annual event from the Entertainment Industries Council that are presented to media for accurate and impactful entertainment portraying and promoting the fields of science, engineering, technology and math.
When second semester began the students got to work getting their message across to their core audience. The campaigns involved a poster ad, 30 second commercial, social media campaign and an event that took place on campus three weeks prior to the presentation. Every team wrote press releases to announce their efforts to the media.
So when the class of 2015 graduated they each had a digital portfolio of work samples that included graphic design, programming, original sites hand coded in html, an updated resume and proof of a complete marketing campaign that they had a key role in executing. I have already received letters, emails and visits from the recent graduates to tell me that they have received internships and jobs at college based on the strength of these portfolios. They have told me that they are comfortable in their programming courses because of the strength of their foundation in the Tech Academy.
I know that when students graduate from the Tech Academy and they fill out an application or partake in an interview they are prepared and ready. They have answers when they are questioned:, “What is a time you had to work with others? What is a challenge you had and how did you overcome it? When were you a leader and what did you do?” The students have proof of experience and success. That is what happens when a student spends three years in the Tech Academy.
Click here for Part 2:
Students Reflect on the Capstone Experience
Students Explain the Projects