Saturday 14 June 2014

#4 "Tech Crew": Intensive 21st Century Learning @ YWLS, Astoria

Whilst other students are working independently on various PBL projects with their advisor, Andrea and her ladies are busy winning national competitions. Globaloria Educator Inspiration Award winner and Languages/Technology teacher Andrea and her students of various grade levels at Young Women’s Leadership School in Astoria NYC have started “Tech Crew”, a group who source their own tech-related projects, work collaboratively and self-manage to deliver high quality products good enough to compete with anyone.

Tech Crew: National Competition Winners
"Tech Crew" are adept at creating digital content, from professional video clips to student friendly games such as their impressive finalist entry to national MIT "Dream it. Code it. Win it." competition: an interactive educational game "Code Green". Perhaps their biggest achievement however, was winning a national competition to become an Apple distinguished school in NY state through the creation of an incredibly professional iBook and promotional video for their school. Unfortunately I cannot share this example with you as Apple have asked the "Dream Team" (as I am now calling them) to collaborate with them before the release of this content.
"Tech Crew" have evolved into a creative and efficient machine. Dividing responsibilities between all members to maximise their output to ensure high quality, industry standard products, it is no exaggeration to say that their drive and talent is something most businesses would envy. They have a designated project manager, who has become adept providing a strategic overview, holding Crew members to account for delivery of products; a team of coding experts capable of creating anything from games, to websites and mobile apps; a video editing department who have both technical skill and evident eye for aesthetics; a visual team so skilled in the use of Photoshop that they have started an instructional website for use by educators. This is a real example of what is possible when students are provided the freedom (in terms of time and space) to work on real world projects, combined with skillful facilitation and technology.

"Tech Crew". From back line to front line, from left to right. Back row:
Valerie De La Rosa, Misbah Awan, Gabrielle Lopez, Noran Omar, Angela Diep, Tahsin Islam,  Hemanjali Jagnanan
Middle Row:
Leslie Miranda, Saima Rehnuma, Andrea, Daniela Leguismo, Yennifer Posada
First Row:
Emily Arlantico, Geraldine Agredo, Reyhan Ayhan

Intensives: Making room for real-world learning

Tech Crew have also played a vital role in teaching fellow students of YWLS, Astoria during 2 week intensive PBL blocks. Organised for the two weeks prior to Christmas and Spring Break, intensives are a period in which the traditional curriculum is collapsed to enable the whole school to participate in an integrated, real-world and rigorous project.

The latest triumph of the 'Intensive' model was the YWLS Astoria Ecological Fashion Show where all students worked to create, organise, advertise and host one high profile event in the community. Tech Crew members taught intensives to younger students on Photoshop, costume design and video editing. They clearly took pride in their work as teachers during this two week block, as Geraldine puts it: “I wanted them to be proud of what they were learning”. With a rigorous planning process that began two months prior to the intensive and daily team meetings to reflect on their practice, the Tech Crew girls took the challenge of teaching extremely seriously.

Intensives are also directly linked to the Shared Learning Outcomes (or “SHOUTCOMES” as they call them at YWLS), meaning students develop their capacity as 21st Century learners and are assessed in line with the whole school approach during these 2-week blocks also. As a result many students continue to apply the skills learned on returning to their normal curriculum.

One of the primary skills developed according to the students was the ability to problem solve (and also the resilience that is required to do this). “Our students built up their patience” says Angela, a Photoshop expert responsible for delivering the intensive in order to create industry standard advertisements for the show. She notes how her small group of 6 students had to "... really know what it meant to become problem solvers" as they grappled with the difficulties of creating and modifying images on Photoshop.

Intensives can also help to build a sense of community across the school. At YWLS Astoria, all teams worked towards a shared whole school outcome that brought everyone including those in the wider community together. As Tech Crew member Saima says, the ecological fashion intensive helped to “break down barriers between grades” bringing together “lots of different students to learn real-world skills”. 

Being part of the group has had benefits for the Tech Crew members too. They have become adept at both the technical and strategic facets of running a 21st Century technology business. Geraldine perceptively states that “students are not encouraged enough to be independent" and that "Tech Crew and our work in the intensives really allows us to learn how to work without the teacher telling us exactly what to do". 

Real World Projects: Is there room in the curriculum? 

At YWLS, Astoria PBL is a fundamental part of the practice of many educators (more to come on this). However, most interesting about this example is the way that space is created in the curriculum to either run projects during a daily advisory period ("Tech Crew") or temporarily collapse the main curriculum through two-week intensives to make real-world projects happen. The learning that takes place during these times is quite clearly of immense value both to the Tech Crew and those students who have benefited from their intensive sessions. These ladies have a full repertoire of 21st Century skills incredibly relevant to almost any job in the modern labour market and a confidence to seek out and grab such opportunities.

Indeed, I had the pleasure of meeting the YWLS girls at NYC i-Zone where they were speaking about their role at the school and the innovative intensive sessions to a room full of NYC educators and students. They showed absolutely no sign of nerves. They were articulate, confident and highly skilled mini-adults.  When asked what their least successful project has been they replied: “we have never really had any failures". 

YWLS, Astoria "Tech Crew" & Andrea at the iZone 2014 Conference
It seems they don't have time to dwell on results that do not go their way, they move on so quickly to the next challenge, sourcing projects and competitions for themselves. As facilitator Andrea mentions "...This is all them. They find the projects, they work together to complete them. All I do is demand that they push themselves to do better and better".

Tech companies and online start ups of the future I hope you are paying close attention. Your competition has arrived and they never lose.

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