BUFFALO - More than 300 middle school students and almost 40 teachers in Johnson County School District #1 were treated to an immersive, hands-on education in information technology last week at Buffalo Middle School.
The Wyoming Department of Workforce Services (DWS) and the Wyoming Department of Education teamed up with Tata Consultancy Services (TCS) to introduce students to the field of computer science, which is projected to be one of the industries with the greatest demand for skilled workers in the coming years. The initiative, goIT, included a train-the-trainer session for teachers on Oct. 8 and a student competition Oct. 9 and 10.
Students in the competition were tasked with creating an app that would solve a challenge in their communities. The 325 students were divided into 15 classrooms, then separated into groups of four. Their instructors, fresh from the train-the-trainer class, introduced the students to design thinking and computer science, then launched the students in a fully immersive design thinking project that challenged the groups to identify a problem or inefficiency in their communities and propose a viable solution in the form of a mobile app.
Each group created a visual display or wireframe of their app idea and began to program their app through an online freeware. Throughout the design process, students were mentored both in person and virtually by TCS industry experts who challenged student thinking, aided them in the design process and helped refine their pitch.
Students then prepared an entrepreneurial style pitch which they presented in front of their peers in their assigned classrooms with one team emerging from each of the 15 rooms as a finalist to present during the culminating assembly. At the end of the first day, all student teams completed a concept brief outlining their app ideas as well as their progress during the day and plans for day two. That evening, volunteers from TCS logged in from across the United States to virtually offer feedback to each team's (75 in total) mobile app concept. This was an extraordinary effort from the TCS volunteers and one that truly added an element to the program that could not have been replicated without their industry expertise.
One group created an app that would help farmers and ranchers find temporary helpers for brandings, haying and other agricultural tasks; another group's app organized the community to build a dog park. The overall winning group created an app titled "Recycle Go," which allowed users to scan recyclable materials and determine whether facilities in the area could accommodate those substances.
Winners were announced in various categories, including "most creative app," "most spirited team," and "team with the most grit." Ultimately "Recycle Go" won the overall competition for the team's well thought out "clean community plan" along with an impressive visual app display, well-polished presentation and the team's confidence fielding hard-hitting questions from the panel of judges. Those judges included Johnson County School District #1 Superintendent Jim Wagner; Director of School Support Division John Bole; Department of Workforce Services Deputy Director John Ysebaert; DWS Administrator Tobi Cates; and DWS Administrator Jason Wolfe.
"There were many highlights form the event from both the teacher and student perspective," said John Dichiara, goIT Program Manager, TCS. "The incredibly high level of student engagement was fun to watch, students truly embraced their inner design thinker and worked collaboratively and with urgency to ideate around ideas they felt passionately about. The teachers in the building really embraced the content and made sure to create a safe space for students to think wildly and creatively all while learning what it means to be a computer scientist."
TCS pioneered the goIT program with the goal of demystifying computer science to help students gain the skills and confidence required to pursue STEM degrees.
The program has gotten off to a fast start and is being piloted by Johnson County School District #1 and will be rolled out across the state over the next year.
"The idea now is to work with the Department of Education to incorporate this into middle schools across the entire state of Wyoming," Dichiara said. "With more schools implementing the TCS goIT curriculum, we are able to increase student awareness of the future of STEM and computer science fields while honing the employability skills necessary to succeed in a 21st century workforce."
Since its launch in 2009, goIT has touched more than 17,000 students in 59 cities across North America, and 70 percent of goIT students say they're more interested in STEM fields after experiencing the program.