Friday, December 20, 2013

Our First Student-Run App Making Workshops

Today two RealSchool members -- Benji Cooper ('15) and Amitai Cohen ('15) -- visited Ben Porat Yosef, an elementary school in Paramus, NJ, to give workshops in coding and graphic design. Together, the workshops were an introduction to the world of app making. Benji started with the sixth graders and taught them the basics of coding, while Amitai ran an app design workshop for the seventh and eighth graders. Then the kids switched.

Amitai and Benji planning their workshops
Planning for the day was fun, as Amitai and Benji had to consider what it would feel like to teach and be in a session. Of course, we focused on creating an interactive, learning-by-doing workshop, so the students would be able to truly experience coding and app design and emerge from the day with a rough iteration they can build on in the future.

Benji began his workshop with how he got started in programming: in the eighth grade, with a program called Scratch, which happens to have been created in one of our favorite places, the MIT Media Lab. Here's Scratch's creator in a TEDx talk:

Check out Scratch here!

As a high school freshman, Benji moved onto learning the basics of programming by learning to code on his calculator, and by tenth grade, he was coding on his computer. To find out more about learning how to code, check out this introduction to programming from the Khan Academy.

In his workshop, Benji used Python to teach the students six functions:

Benji taught the students how to write a line of text;
add numbers; create an array; and more
Benji also taught the students how to make a
line repeat 10X. Students quickly had the computers
repeating a line 10,000X!
An unexpected bonus: Benji got to practice his Hebrew language skills,
with a student who spoke only in Hebrew.
Amitati also began his workshop by explaining how he got his start, in graphic design and app making. Amitai's father is in graphic design, and Amitai always liked to draw. Once he got a computer, he took his drawing digital, since he loved the fact that he could iterate so much more easily -- he loved failing fast to fail forward! Amitai drew his own bar mitzvah logo and entered Frisch ready to put his design skills to use. He quickly did so for the school chessed [charity] program as well as for RealSchool. We've shared before Amitai's amazing designs and logos for us!

Amitai explaining his start in graphic design
Here's the Superfood logo Amitai made for
RealSchool's Food Day program
Benji's workshop focused on the basics of coding, something kids can instantly see is important in app making. Amitai had to explain to students how important the design process is in app creation, but after doing so, the kids got busy designing a logo and three pages of their apps. Shira Ackerman, BPY's wonderful education technology director, had prepped all the students the day before, asking them to brainstorm an idea for an app they'd like to build. They spent the workshop time further iterating their ideas.

Amitai ideates with BPY middle schoolers
Morah Shira, BPY's edtech director, brainstorms with students

Amitai's workshop also included time for students to present their app ideas:

BPY students were poised and articulate during their presentation time.
They're ready for the business world!
This group's app is called Language Learner. . . 
. . . and this group also created an app that helps in
speaking a foreign language: it translates
what you say into the language you choose.
This group created a game out of the information they learned
about Egyptian history in their Social Studies class
We were really impressed by the fact that students created apps that helped increase and deepen learning.

Students also had time to reflect both orally and in written form on what they had done. We loved one student's response: he liked learning how much technology was capable of doing and the fact that it enabled him to be so creative.

We loved that students were so engaged in both of the workshops' activities, and we found the kids articulate, poised, and enthusiastic in their presentations. We were also deeply admiring of the students' creativity, genuine interest in learning, and ability to assess and comment on their peers' work. 

The middle schoolers asked Morah Shira if they could continue to work on both coding and app design even once the day was over. We're so glad that Benji's and Amitai's workshops sparked a desire to deepen learning in the BPY students, and we loved the opportunity to have students teaching students. Peer learning: it's the way to go!