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Teaching 8th graders using App Inventor through Project Lead the Way's ICS 1 curriculum.

I am interested in moving the students towards a deeper understanding of the power of CS to improve people lives. We are a high poverty school and I think it would be good for our program for students to make things that were useful to their classmates and community. PLTW has a basic framework for this that involves asking friends and family about needs and then designing based on these user stories. This past year, however, I ended up with 6 different apps that fart when you tap a picture (not completely accurate, but basically).

Any suggestions for developing a sense of responsibility and more interesting, powerful student designed projects?

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    $\begingroup$ I'm writing up my answer right now, but I wanted to take a moment to welcome you to CSE. This is a great first question! $\endgroup$ – Ben I. Jun 21 '17 at 17:59
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For context, I teach high school students as part of a 4-year high school computer science major. My students do, during their 4th year, a full-year project for a client who has a need. (The clients do not pay for this, they provide a client experience for our budding developers.) At the end, we have a big event with presentations, outside judges, and a lucheon. I've been playing with the formula for this class for a number of years (and I am still tinkering!), but here are a few takeaways I can share with you that would apply to younger kids and shorter projects:

  1. Pose a challenge to the 8th graders to address a particular world problem. (You should choose the problem). It could be global hunger, or too much partisanship, or not enough kids with access to education. Tell them that their application should address this problem. Give them three research resources that they can use to explore the issue further.

  2. Make other projects possible only if they write a few paragraphs about why the problem they wish to address is important, and how they intend to address the problem. They must include a reference to 3 sources about the problem that they want to address.

  3. Get outsiders to come in for a culminating event and "judge" the final projects. (The outsiders can be other teachers from your building, your administrators, or true outsiders.) Let the kids prepare a short presentation about their project, science-fair style, and let the judges walk around with a rubric and talk to the students. Having people from the outside world come in is a powerful motivator (and will prevent a lot of the fart-joke responses). Similarly, contact your local newspaper and see if they can send someone in for a small write-up.

  4. Give a certificate to the winner, or even a small trophy.

  5. As they work, have each student (or group) create small milestones that they must meet. These are the core of the evaluation process. New milestones are created on the same day as the old ones are graded. They must be very specific, and you must agree to them.

In the following year, you can choose a new problem to address, and you will have a few example projects from the first year. By choosing only one or two very strong projects (and saving the newspaper writeup), you can really set the tone the second year. This project will now be a big deal, and kids will take it very seriously!

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Since you said that it is a "high poverty school," I assume that some students may have some financial/material needs... So, you could suggest the development of an app that allows the students to anonymously post things that they are in need of (a pair os shoes, one math book, food, ...) and let other more fortunate students (also anonymously) provide what they need.

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I think @Ben I.'s suggestions are great, but let me present a completely different take.

Don't prepare them for science fairs, prepare them for industry.

  1. Introduce them to git/open source/collaboration by creating an "open source" project on github, involving whatever languages you're using. Open issues and have students assemble into teams and work together to solve problems.

  2. After some time doing #1, help them find their own open-source projects (see first timers only). Be there to assist, but let them give it a go.

  3. Help them explore prominent (most widely used in industry) languages even if they aren't in your curriculum - let them dabble in web design in a Java-focused class, for instance.

  4. Prepare throughout for a "final exam" - an "interview" and accompanying project with people from companies. Help them arrange internships for bonus points! Teach them about interviewing, resumes, professionality - none of it is gonna hurt.

Let them know that the end result is going to be hopefully a chance at an internship - aka, to make money and become "real, live programmers". I think that'll remove most if not all of the fart-jokes.

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Find a real project (or series of small projects) that your students can do, and build up their skills and resume's together.

For example, back in 1988(ish), a high school computer class won a contract from the Canadian National Parks service to build a tourist kiosk system. It saved the parks service money, gave the students an industry project that they could put on their resume, and brought in cash to support the (then) fledgling computer science program.

Not directly related to computers, but related in a general sense to encouraging a degree of professionalism, I manage a weekly webcast that is primarily crewed by teens. My oldest technician is 17, and the youngest is 11. For the most part, when they take their stations they become professionals (yeah, they're still teens so there's a certain amount of goofing around that goes on, but a team of adults will goof around just as much).

Every week, their skills are live streamed to the world. In addition to technical skills, they learn management, team building, and customer relations. The occasional paid engagement as 1099 contractors (US tax code - self employed) is a definite bonus for them. In the long term, there is nothing like graduating from high school with 5 years of industry experience to raise the demand for a recent graduate.

Look at partnering with a consultancy that uses 1099's, or other government agencies that would find a win-win situation working with your students.

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