EVANSTON — Students at both Evanston middle schools spent several recent days challenging themselves and their classmates while participating in the GoIT program. The program, offered by global IT consulting firm Tata Consulting Services, is designed to address the STEM skills gap while also providing an opportunity for students to develop design and critical thinking, public speaking and presentation, and problem-solving skills.
Students in sixth through eighth grades at both Evanston Middle School and Davis Middle School spent three days last month being challenged to design their own apps to address community problems. Hillary McDonald, GoIT specialist, explained how specialists like herself go into schools to provide hands-on learning opportunities for students, expecting those students to have virtually no foundation with computer science.
The program, which has been brought into schools nationwide to reach more than 26,000 students and counting, takes students through six modules, starting with basic computer science knowledge about careers and what exactly is meant by the term “computer science.” The second module focused on design thinking and specifically how app development requires empathy for users to understand what people need and will respond to.
During the third module, student teams were challenged to identify community problems and develop app ideas to solve them. The app ideas started from a general notion to focusing on details like features, descriptions, possible competitors, types of users, structuring and more.
In the fourth module, students developed storyboards to create visuals of the app and how it would work. The fifth module involved the hands-on coding that is often thought of as an integral part of computer science.
Finally, teams made their entrepreneurial pitch to classmates. Students were challenged to explain their app, its purpose and why it’s needed, to students in their own classrooms. Each classroom picked a winning pitch and those were then presented to the entire grade level. Two winning pitches from students in each grade were then selected, and students presented their idea to the entire school and a panel of judges, who selected the overall school winners. The top two teams from each school are eligible to participate in a statewide competition in Casper in May.
McDonald said students and teachers alike often display trepidation at the beginning of the program when they are uncertain about what will be required and believe, falsely, that computer science only involves the actual coding. McDonald explained, however, that the GoIT program allows students to see firsthand that computer science careers involve much more than coding and provide opportunities for everyone to be creative and shine using their unique skills. The overall goal is to “inspire digital innovators and strengthen community,” she said.
“One of my favorite parts is that it’s one of the few times students aren’t passing or failing,” said McDonald. “We have such a risk-averse system with grades that students don’t want to take chances. With this, there are no right or wrong answers. It provides a safe space to continue to grow and shows there are many different ways to learn. Every skill set has a place in computer science.”
Evanston Middle School teacher Cynthia Murdock, who helped organize the program at that school, said, “I’m glad our students had the opportunity to participate in this event because, in addition to showcasing computer science jobs and experiences, it also provided amazing opportunities for students to use critical thinking and problem-solving skills, work collaboratively and formally present solutions to problems they themselves identified.”
Teacher Wendy Daniels, who facilitated the GoIT program at Davis Middle School, said, “I was not only impressed by the amazing projects the kids came up with, but also the ideas and problems that they chose to solve. We had over 80 app ideas presented, ranging from local issues with middle school emotional health, adolescent hunger and high school dropout prevention and support to world issues like pollution, wildfires and water ecology. Our teachers were equally impressive as they dove into the work and became computer science facilitators.”
Projects presented in the final round at EMS included an app to help students and teachers better communicate and ask questions, an app to help deal with I-80 semi traffic in the Evanston area, an app to help people plan and coordinate pet care and the first-place project of an app to notify people about local events and businesses. Members of the EMS winning team included Cashae Brooks, Emma Lester, Paisley Norris, David Webb and Ashlee McCoy, and second-place team members were Dalynn Wisenbaker, Marin Smith, Luke Guild and Elias Sandquist.
Projects at DMS included an app to help people use less paper and save trees, an app to help parents and kids monitor cell phone usage and screen time, an app to help people schedule recycling pickups and an app to help color blind individuals differentiate between colors, which was the first-place project at that school.
Davis Middle School eighth graders Tanner Tholl and Jamar McDowell, two members of winning team Cast-a-Vision, said the GoIT program was “awesome” and they hope it’s something that will be continued in coming years. McDowell said, “It was super fun to work with our friends to create something that worked so well.” Joining Tholl and McDowell on the winning team were Tyler and Nathan Robinson. The DMS second-place team consisted of Madison Brown, Sheridan Hatch, Rachel Johnson, Dannon Kohler and Sophia Carter.