Rebecca Rincon’s 21st Century Problem Solving class at Ánimo Florence-Firestone Charter Middle School goes beyond the typical math problems, and presents students with real-world problems and the tools to solve them. “We do a great job of getting students prepared for college and leadership. This course was a way to really focus on teaching students life skills early on so they feel confident in their ability to solve problems in our 21st Century world,” said Rincon.
Computer Literacy for All
People of color are often underrepresented in the technology sector, a field that accounts for over 8.6 million jobs in the United States, which is why Rincon wanted to ensure that students were exposed to additional STEM pathways while gaining greater computer literacy. That includes, in part, introducing students to the underlying principles of computation. “Students have learned to code HTML and are currently learning block code that is used to create video games and applications,” said Rincon. “The course is student driven, with students learning at their own pace and helping others, which has led to many students studying coding at home.”
As students at Ánimo Florence-Firestone learn the language of the 21st Century, they are using it to create websites and many are hoping to create their own applications. “It’s a new side to computers--before this class, all we knew about technology and computers was that they were cool and fun, but we didn't know about the other side, like engineering and coding,” said Daniel Villa, eighth grader at Ánimo Florence-Firestone. Burning Glass, a job market analytics firm, found that there were over seven million job openings in 2015 in occupations that required coding skills.
Additionally, they found coding has become a core skill that bolsters a candidate’s chances of commanding a high salary. “Before this class I knew what coding was, but I never tried it. I thought it was something I’d have to learn at a university. I never thought I’d learn it in middle school,” said Jocelyn Urias, an eighth grader at Ánimo Florence-Firestone. “I thought ‘wow, this is really a career? I’d like to try it out one day!’” At Green Dot, our mission is to inspire students like Urias and provide them with the tools they need to find success in college, leadership, and life.
Problem Solving with a Purpose
The 21st Century Problem Solving class is designed to help students develop their communication skills, strengthen their analytic thinking, promote creativity, and foster collaboration. Last semester students focused on “design and modeling,” during which they were introduced to the foundations of problem solving and prototype creation.
Students learned to use rendering and animation programs such as Sketchup Pro and Geogebra to bring their designs to life in the form of 3D renderings. Using curriculum designed by Project Lead the Way, students were challenged to create an ankle foot orthoses and a toy for a child with cerebral palsy, a neurological disorder that affects a person’s motor skills and muscles. This project required students to put their recent learning into practice, defining problems and determining root causes to formulate solutions. In their analysis, students found that most commercial toys required more coordination and strength than children with cerebral palsy typically possessed, resulting in frustrating interactions. As students learned more about cerebral palsy, they were able to select and implement solutions.
Students focused on creating prototypes for toys that are engaging, accessible, and would help children further develop their motor skills. “This class makes me feel like I’m doing a lot at such a young age, and I feel like a career isn't that far away because I know so much about coding and technology that others don’t know,” said Villa.
Creating a STEM Pathway
Rincon has applied student’s interests in gaming, design, fashion, and architecture to provide a STEM and technology course that is purposeful, engaging, fun, and helps prepare students for the future. “Every student will take away something different from this course: there are students engrossed in block code because it's about gaming and they love Fortnite and want to learn how computer programming works,” said Rincon. “Then there are students who are developing interests in animation, fashion, and architecture because they see how what we're learning ties into those different industries.”
Though the course is in its first year, Rincon is already looking towards the future. When Ánimo Florence-Firestone moves to its new home, Rincon hopes to collaborate with Ánimo Pat Brown Charter High School’s technology teacher to create a strong STEM and technology pathway for students in the Florence-Firestone community. Though not every student will have an interest in pursuing a career path in STEM, we know these STEM courses will help ease entry to college for students by furthering their soft skills and helping them stay current as technological advances change our lives and workplaces.