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Charles Skidmore at Citizen Schools was one of the first adopters of goIT once it pivoted from TCS to teacher-led facilitation. As a longtime believer of the program, Charlie talks about his experience with goIT in a virtual environment, and the impact the program continues to have on students.

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“What did you learn?” I asked Angel S., a 6th-grade student in the Citizen Schools Extended Learning Time (ELT) program at Greenleaf Middle School in Oakland, California, after completing the goIT curriculum.   

“I learned that an app and a good idea can change things,” he replied, not knowing how happy he had made me with those words.  Our vision at Citizen Schools is that, “all students have experiences and career mentors that ignite curiosity, build confidence, and help them develop into the next generation of leaders.” Angel’s response assured me that goIT is one way that we are fulfilling that mission. 

Our primary method of achieving the Citizen Schools mission is through a ten-week, fall and spring apprenticeships where students work with business, technology and other professionals on projects that help them learn about career pathways that interest them. Between the two semesters, however, there is a six-week intersession. In my capacity as a professional development leader at Citizen Schools, I wanted an additional student project during intersession that would maintain the same high level of rigor as the apprenticeships. When I first heard about goIT in 2018, I suspected that it might be an excellent option. 

As I worked with Hillary McDonald to get trained for the goIT implementation, I quickly realized that goIT was a Level 4 curriculum unit according to the Webb Depth of Knowledge (DOK) scale, an instrument educators use to calculate the cognitive depth of an assignment. At Level 4, the highest level of rigor on the Webb Scale, students are asked to perform high-level cognitive tasks such as: apply information to solve problems in new situations, make multiple strategic and procedural decisions, collaborate with a group of individuals, create graphs, tables, and charts, organize the information with minimal instructor prompting, and sell an idea. Students engage in all of those tasks, experiences and more when completing the six units of the goIT curriculum. By the time I finished the training, I knew that goIT would make an excellent addition to the Citizen Schools program.

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This is the third year that Citizen Schools has implemented goIT, and staff who have done it a second or third time have come to see the specific rhythm of the goIT experience.  “I compare it to an airplane flight,” says Areej Hasan, a Teaching Fellow (TF) at Joseph George Middle School in San Jose, California.  “The first two units are the taxiing down the runway. The third unit is the take-off when students choose an idea for their app and really begin to see that they are in control of their projects.  That sense of student independence continues through Units 4 and 5. Then comes the excitement of the landing in Unit 6 when students make their pitch for their app at the Shark Tank event.” 

In this third year of goIT at Citizen Schools, I not only oversaw the implementation of the project at all campuses but also worked at one specific campus and provided direct service to students as they worked their way through the six-unit goIT project.  I, too, saw the students take ownership of their app ideas by the third unit, and was uplifted to hear students talk passionately about their desire to change the world with the app they were creating together.  When Diane Bengston, a volunteer from Tata, remoted into our class to give students advice about their apps, they took full advantage of her expertise to add new details to their work.  Ismael T., a 7th-grade student at Greenleaf Elementary, said, “Miss Diane really spent a lot of time with me, and made my app better.” 

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wireframe
aboutwireframes

At Citizen Schools we implement goIT over a six-week period.  In the in-person iteration there is a specific day that the core lesson is implemented, but there is time throughout the week for smaller lessons and for teamwork on the apps. When I visited campuses over the first two years of goIT, I saw students huddling in small groups, designing screens, rearranging them – sometimes after much discussion and discord – then finally coming to agreements that moved the wireframe to a beautifully designed storyboard.  Could we recreate that in a virtual environment? 

 Emily Yonce, a TF at Greenleaf Elementary School in Oakland wondered the same thing, saying, “Last year I could interact with each group almost daily, listen to their ideas and help them make connections or see where they needed to be more realistic.  I knew I wouldn’t have as many opportunities to do that in a distance learning environment.” 

In fact, students overcame the time crunch and were able to complete their goIT projects remotely.  Using tools like Jamboard and Google Slides, students communicated beyond class time to collaborate on their wireframes and to create rich, detailed storyboards.  Tomás Arias, a TF at East Somerville Community School in Somerville, MA added, “The best part about goIT is the freedom students have to tackle a problem the way they want.  And the distance learning model gave students even more room to solve the problem the way that they thought most appropriate.”  

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As we came to the last weeks of goIT, I was interested to see if remote instruction would be able to recreate the excitement of the Shark Tank presentation, that last leg of the goIT journey.  As recommended in the goIT guidelines, our campuses, in the first two years, had made the Shark Tank presentations into quite the event with decorations, refreshments, and invited guests and judges in the school auditorium or cafeteria.  While the public speaking component is intimidating for some students, it’s a huge motivation for others.  Invariably, a shy student or a seemingly unprepared team, would get inspired by the trappings of the event and deliver the ‘performance of a lifetime’, showing a passion or an excitement that hadn’t existed previously.  Would an online Shark Tank presentation create the same circumstances?  

It turned out that, yes, the online presentations created that same useful tension.  In the days leading up to the online presentations, several students who had diligently worked in the creation of their app expressed hesitation – some even refusal – to participate in the Shark Tank.  Yuen Nap, a TF at the William Sheppard Middle School in San Jose, perfectly captured this phenomenon when she wrote, “Many of the students in my goIT group had the opportunity to collaborate with one another in a smaller group setting. As the facilitator, I had the privilege to witness the ways my students grew comfortable with one another as they worked together to brainstorm features for their app.  A lot of the students in my group were pretty shy when it came to participation and presenting in front of the class. However, many of them stepped outside of their comfort zone when they saw their teammates volunteering to present a section of their goIT presentation. I felt like the students had a sense of ownership and pride over their project, which encouraged them to share and present with the rest of the class.”

At every campus Shark Tank that I remoted into this year, I saw students deliver inspiring and heartfelt presentations that reflected their empathy for those affected by the community and world issues. Our experience with goIT over three years, both in-person and online, has been one where my colleagues and I have seen hundreds of students thrive as they rise to the challenge of using computer science to improve their world.  Many thanks to the goIT development team and to Tata Consultancy Services for making such a complex and compelling project available to our Citizen School students.  The rigorous, high cognitive nature of goIT allows students to grow academically and socially and furthers the Citizen School mission of developing our students into the next generation of leaders.