Thursday, December 18, 2014

Bellevue Kids are Coding!

This year The Hour of Code had the goal of reaching 100 million participants.  The Hour of Code took place from December 8-14 during Computer Science Week. It was sponsored by people such as Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerberg. People across the world were encouraged to complete one hour of code. While the goal wasn’t quite met, they did reach approximately 80,000,000 people, and 4,300,000,000 lines of code were written by students.  That is an amazing accomplishment for something that sounds very difficult.  Here in Bellevue we had students six to 18 participating in the Hour of Code.   

The truth is coding isn’t all that hard.  With websites like  and apps like Tynker, Kodable, Lightbot, and Cargo-bot anyone can do it.  All our students had to do was give coding a try for one hour.  Skills like critical problem solving and patterning are taught through coding and all of the activities are individualized through the sites and apps.  Kids were challenged and successful in creating programs and video games through coding!  

Here are some of the amazing quotes overheard during coding:
  • “There are jobs where you do this?” -Lauren, high school student
  • “This is hard, but I really like it!” -Madison, third grade student
  • “This is fun and it makes my brain really move!” - Brady, third grade student
  • “Look at this, look what I did! I unlocked the rainbow! - Preston, first grade student
  • "I could feel the power of thinking in my classroom during Hour of Code! The kiddos lit up the classroom with their excitement in every line they created!" - Megan Cinfel, 1st grade teacher
  • “This is the greatest thing I’ve ever done.” - Darin, 2nd grade student
  • "Our students live in a technology driven world. When my students participated in the hour of code not only were they 100% engaged and excited,  they were creating and problem solving. Every student felt empowered with each success along the way." - Monica Evon, 4th Grade Teacher
  • “ I started to learn how to code on a Commodore 64 that plugged into a tiny 10" TV when I was in 4th grade. It was awesome to watch my own 4th graders begin their Introduction to Coding during the Hour of Code. It brought back a lot of memories for me. I also told the class about a 15 year old kid named Michael who learned about coding when he was their age. Michael is just starting high school but already has 5 Apps available in the App Store. So we downloaded one called "Color Deception". The students had a blast with the App and I think some of them started to realize that you don't have to be an adult to code.” - Garrett Sims, 4th grade teacher
  • "Coding = Problem Solving  I like how students work together or alone to solve a problem. They think its fun and a challenge. I also like how they experienced success very quickly and how determined they were to solve the puzzle and get it right. No one gave up!" - Terrie Brown, 2nd grade teacher.

There are not enough Americans to fill all the coding jobs out there.  According to Forbes, The Bureau of Labor Statistics is predicting that jobs for what it calls “computer and information research scientists” will increase by 19% between 2010 and 2020, a healthy rate. For software developers, the forecast is even better, with a projected growth rate of 30%. Coding is a necessary skill for careers of the future.  The Hour of Code and the abundant resources available makes it easy for every student in the United States to give coding a try. Becoming a computer scientist is one of the hot careers for the next 10 years. As President Obama said, “Don’t just consume things, create things.”

Want to know more or encourage your students to learn coding?  
For students who wish to continue coding all year long, there are a lot of resources on for beyond the hour of code. Both the high schools offer coding courses and students in elementary and middle school can participate in after school robotics clubs to continue to hone their skills.   

Want to fuel the coding passion in teachers?

According to the site, “ has developed an elementary school curriculum that allows even the youngest students to explore the limitless world of computing- at no cost for schools. The courses blend online, self-guided and self-paced tutorials with “unplugged”activities that require no computer at all. Each course consists of about 20 lessons that may be implemented as one unit or over the course of a semester. Even kindergarten-aged pre-readers can participate.  To find a workshop near you, click here.

We are thrilled that Ken Steen, a trainer, will be offering the Coding for Teachers in-service mentioned above on January 10th from 10:00-4:00 at Lewis and Clark Middle School. This is a tremendous learning opportunity for our K-5 teachers and the workshop filled shortly after registration opened.  Teachers will receive training and curriculum materials to use with their students so they can code all year long.  

We were truly inspired by the determination and problem solving skills the students in Bellevue Public Schools displayed while participating in the hour of code. We hope you will follow in their footsteps and give and hour of code a try.

Written by: 
Jenny Krzystowczyk @jennykbps
Ann Feldmann @annfeldmann1
Jeanette Carlson @mrsjcarlson

Works Cited
"The Cities With The Most Computer Science Jobs." Forbes. Forbes Magazine. Web. 11 Dec. 2014. <>.
"President Obama Kicks off the Hour of Code 2014." YouTube. YouTube. Web. 11 Dec. 2014. <>.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

A Look Back to Move Forward: 10 Things You Don't Want to Leave Behind

2014 turned out to be a great tech year!  There were new iOS devices and operating systems. We were able to work across devices and laptops seamlessly.  The sharing of information, photos, and documents became easier and easier as the year went on thanks to Apple.  For our teachers, there seemed to be an endless supply of new learning opportunities to stay on top of effective teaching practices using technology.  Many people jumped on the opportunity to use The Hour of Code to get students involved in basic coding skills.  Genius Hour or 20% Time took off as a way to engage kids in their own passion for learning and online design tools like Canva made online publishing beautiful for anyone!  

Here are a list of 10 things we think you should take into 2015.  This list has the staying power to sustain your love of integrating technology in the classroom for months to come.  

  1. #HourofCode: Did you know 48 million people signed up to participate in the hour of code this year?  There are not enough Americans to fill all the coding jobs out there?  According to a Forbes, The Bureau of Labor Statistics is predicting that jobs for what it calls “computer and information research scientists” will increase by 19% between 2010 and 2020, a healthy rate. For software developers the forecast is even better, with a projected growth rate of 30%. coding is necessary skill for careers of the future.  The hour of code and the abundant resources available makes it easy for every student in the United States to give coding a try. Becoming a computer scientist is one of the hot careers for the next 10 years.  Check out for tutorials and more coding opportunities for students beyond the Hour of Code. As President Obama said, “Don’t just consume things, create things.
  2. Genius Hour or 20% time:  What is genius hour? According to, “Genius hour is a movement that allows students to explore their own passions and encourages creativity in the classroom.  It provides students a choice in what they learn during a set period of time during school.  It’s not easy to determine where the idea was originally created, but there are at least two events that have impacted genius hour.”  Teachers are finding as they implement genius hour, there is a shift in classroom energy. Students are fueled with drive and curiosity is rekindled.  This engagement leads to new ideas, inventions, and new levels of learning. A hot new book is Pure Genius: Building a Culture of Innovation and Taking 20% Time to the Next Level by Don Wettrick.  “One of the benefits to a passion-based project is that students learn to love learning,” Wettrick said on page 31 in his book.
  3. Connected Educators:  One of the ways to be inspired is to learn from other educators. Bob Dillion (@ideaguy42 ), keynote speaker at the Fall NETA conference in Kearney, NE, challenged us to find five people who do our job better than we do and learn from them. What better place than Twitter, Google +, or Facebook to learn from others. The website is a great resource to help you get connected. Here are 12 great ways to get connected.
  4. Canva: Canva, is a free online design platform.  Canva lets you create banners, posters, postcards and more for online publishing.  Students can use Canva to create images to post to or their own websites.  It can be used as an alternative to posters or collages.  It is also a great tool for infographics.  Most designs are free and those that are not free are only $1.00.  
  5. #tlap:  Teach Like A Pirate has taken off since last summer and hasn’t slowed down a bit!  We have used Dave Burgess’ (@burgessdave)  book for online book studies, in-person trainings, and all around inspiration for shifting attitudes about teaching and filling teachers with the enthusiasm they once had for our profession.  The hashtag #tlap has a huge following on Twitter and is worth a few minutes a day for inspiration and fresh ideas.
  6. Google Classroom:  Google Classroom is a great way to manage your classroom with or without a 1 to 1 set-up. Teachers can use Classroom to send assignments to students, make announcements, and grade student work all from your computer. This is a one stop shop for students and teachers to connect. We are seeing many clubs and organizations using Google Classroom also. Student council, sport teams, NHS organizations, and clubs have found great uses for Google Classroom.
  7. Google+ Hangouts:  Google+ Hangouts provide a variety of opportunities for teachers and students alike. Imagine connecting with another classroom in a different state, or country, for that matter and having your students participate in an activity where they ask descriptive questions to figure out where the other class is locate. This is a Mystery Hangout. Each student is assigned a role, including mappers, questioners, and videographers. It is a great collaborate activity that all ages and disciplines can benefit from. You can also use Hangouts to connect with experts and bring them into your classroom. How about connecting with a zoo and talking about habitats or an astronaut and talking about space exploration, or connect with a musician and play music together. As a teacher, you can use Hangouts to connect with other educators and discuss ideas and best practices. The options are truly endless. Find great people in the Google Plus Connected Classrooms community.
  8. Global Projects:  Global projects take the shape of many different learning activities.  One that we love is the global readaloud.  This was started by an 7th grade English educator, Pernille Ripp,  who wanted to connect students across the world through literature.  Tapping into the Google Connected Classrooms Community is another great way for educators to connect with others and create your own activity. For example, Spanish classrooms in Bellevue connected with a Spanish class in Alabama for a conversation activity.  Students enjoyed using their  conversational Spanish with a purpose and had fun meeting new friends too.  Project Based Learning (PBL)  is another way to facilitate global projects as PBL lends itself to utilizing connections throughout the world to make their projects happen.  Check out the Flat Connections Global Classroom Project and sign up for a 2015 global learning experience for your students. Students of all ages can participate.
  9. EdtechTeam iOS NE Summit: Definitely look for this in 2015!!!  This one is so hot, it sizzles! For the first time ever,  Bellevue Public Schools will be hosting the Nebraska  iOS Summit this summer, July 29-30 at Bellevue West High School!  This will be an amazing event for educators. This event will focus on the use of technology to support teaching and learning. The session will be intended for an audience of teachers, school leaders, and IT managers (with varying technology skills) from schools in the region. The content will focus on iPads, iOS and educational apps used to leverage learning in the classroom.  Not only will there be high caliber national presenters, there will also be amazing local presenters too! Registration is open and you and your friends can register here at:

10.  #Edcamps: Edcamps are still all the rage and gaining momentum across the country.  As long as people attend and share content, edcamps will continue to be a popular venture for committed, innovative educators.  Edcamps are basically non-conference conferences where there is no schedule, no keynote speakers, and NO COST!   Edcamps are free for educators, but does accept donations to help keep it afloat.  Check out an edcamp near you!  If you are in the midwest, you won’t want to miss #EdcampOmaha which is coming March 21, 2015.  

Written by:
Jeanette Carlson @mrsjcarlson
Ann Feldmann @annfeldmann1
Jenny Krzystowczyk @jennykbps

Works Cited
"The Cities With The Most Computer Science Jobs." Forbes. Forbes Magazine. Web. 11 Dec. 2014. <>.
"President Obama Kicks off the Hour of Code 2014." YouTube. YouTube. Web. 11 Dec. 2014. <>.

Monday, December 1, 2014

Five Ways to Grow Your Mind as a Teacher Leader

Educational leaders give lip service to a concept called growth mindset.  It is brought up in PD sessions and teacher assessments.  There is even a hashtag #growthmindset that is on Twitter.  

Growth is defined as, the process of developing.  Mindset is defined as the established set of attitudes.  So growth mindset must mean to develop your attitudes, right?  

How can leaders facilitate a growth mindset from a set of teachers within a district? First, our leaders must examine their own set of attitudes and take responsibility for their own growth.  Growing attitudes takes time and conscious work.  It doesn’t happen overnight and certain behaviors can help facilitate growth among educators. Consider these five steps that leaders can embrace when moving people to different attitudes about learning in the classroom.

1.) Model a growth mindset
As a leader, try new tools, read relevant books, and engage in critical conversations about growth.  Talk about what you are reading, share new skills you are learning, or tweet out content you find valuable to your own learning.  If you aren’t learning something new, how can you expect others that you mentor to do the same?

2.) Support risk-taking
If an educator comes to you with an idea, be a good listener.  Too often fear guides decisions.  The what if’s and worries get in the way.  Instead, attempt to  provide whatever support the teacher needs to make their ideas come to fruition.  Who knows?  You might learn something new in the process.

3.) Focus on passion in the classroom and not the tests.  
It is a true statement that tests receive the most attention within the classroom despite the grade level.  Let’s move away from testing as an end all and go with passion for learning instead.  After all, if students don’t love learning, what is the point of school?  Passion is where its at and genius hour is one great way to kick off some passionate learning in the classroom.  Conversations needs to shift from, “What does your data look like?”  to “What are your students loving to learn about right now?”

4.) Provide opportunities for growth.  
Seek out learning opportunities for teachers that might spark their passion for learning.  Be open to ideas for conferences, twitter chats, and collaboration.  Provide interesting and engaging literature for teachers like Teach Like a Pirate by, Dave Burgess or The Relevant Educator, by Steven Anderson and Tom Whitby.

5.) Allow teachers to take responsibility for their own learning.
Instead of providing professional development that is a sit and get model, provide more engaging and transformative PD in the form of collaborative spaces, big ideas, and teacher leaders.  Professional development can and should be differentiated. We love using Google communities, Twitter, and Google docs for collaborative work spaces.  

The gift of time is also critical for effective professional development.  Learning can take the form of many different avenues and leaders should be open to all of them.  

I love this post from Steve Anderson about creativity and a crisis in leadership.  He states that “we all need to ensure kids have opportunities to learn, reflect, grow and follow their passions, through learning.”  I believe educators have the same need and I believe educational leaders have the responsibility to support, model, and facilitate this need.  Maybe then our lip service to a growth mindset can come to fruition.  

image from

Written by,
Jennifer Krzystowczyk

Monday, November 24, 2014

Core Apps for the #ipadacademy

It's More Than An App

When rolling out iPads in education, often the first question we get is what are your favorite apps?  We chuckle a little, because we know that iPads in the classroom are more than apps.  And while we do use a criteria for choosing apps, we think bigger than just apps.  Bringing iPads in the classroom is just one small piece of the pie.  There is so much more to consider.   

More than an app is needed to be successful, the question becomes what do you want students to accomplish.  When the focus is on student learning, the conversation shifts from apps to how to craft a student centered learning environment.  The iPad is just a tool, a very powerful one, that if used correctly can unleash learning opportunities teachers and students have only dreamed of.  Training, coaching, and on-going opportunities to grow provides teachers a framework on best practices for teaching and learning in a digital classroom.  Instead of using the iPad as a tool to substitute what is currently done in the classroom, teachers instead learn how to shift from a teacher centered classroom to a learner centered classroom.

In Bellevue Public Schools, we use Google Apps for Ed for our student work flow.  Students have access to e-mail, Google Drive, and YouTube.  These buckets become essential tools as students begin to create work and need to share/store/submit their work from their iPads to their teachers and parents.  We favor app that export to Google Drive or YouTube, allow for creativity, are easy to share, work across all grade levels, and increase collaboration.

We’ve been at this now for three years and have learned a lot.  We shy away from in-app purchases and apps that are used in only one part of the curriculum.  We provide continuous training and support to our iPad teachers through monthly collaboration days, in class coaching and co-teaching models, and bring parents in for iPad sharing sessions. We’ve discovered that we really only need about two iPad screens of apps and only three paid apps.   

Here is a link to our favorite core apps.

Written by

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

What is Your Greatness?

New teacher technology training is one of my favorite professional development days I have the privilege of facilitating with my colleagues, Jenny and Jeanette.   New teachers bring joy, enthusiasm, passion, energy and a zest for our profession. 

Today at our new teacher training, we took the time to reflect on our greatness as educators. What do we bring each day to school and share with our students and colleagues?  What is that greatness? How does our greatness make a difference?  

Each new teacher reflected privately and then wrote his/her greatness on a clothespin decorated with Washi tape.  Then each person shared his/her greatness out loud with the group. "Patience, energy, creative, devoted,"  the new teachers said.   

As each new teacher shared their greatness with the group, they clipped their clothespin to our wire wreath.  One by one, the clothes pins were added and soon their pins developed into this stunning reminder of greatness.  Alone we are amazing and as we pool our greatness together, it develops into something unimaginable.  

The wreath will now hang proudly in our office/classroom as a reminder of all the greatness we added to our district this year when we hired our new teachers.  Our new teachers are an amazing group and their greatness is making a difference every day for our students in Bellevue Public Schools.    

Greatness wreath created at New Teacher Training, November 2014.

What is your greatness?  How does your greatness make a difference? Feel free to leave a comment.

Written by Ann Feldmann


References:  Idea modified from a Thankful Wreath featured in the November 2014 issue of  Momaha Magazine 

Monday, November 10, 2014

Becoming a Connected Educator

October was Connected Educator month, but what exactly does this mean? Here are a few steps you can take to get you started on your path to becoming a connected educator. A few tips to remember along the way…..start small and throw fear aside. There are many people here to support and help you along the way.

Step 1: Create social media accounts such as Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn. The important thing to remember with this step is to become active with these sites once you create an account. For example, participate in one of these Twitter chats to engage and find people to follow--people that have the same interests as you! If you created a Facebook page or group share something each day and be sure to like other educational pages to receive links to articles, events and ideas.

Step 2: Collaborate using Google+ Hangouts or Skype-become a global educator. Hangout with fellow educators from across the nation and world to collaborate on any topic that is important to you. Use these tools with your classes, all you need is one computer and a projector, to connect to students from all over. Imagine what your students in Nebraska could learn from students in Canada or Australia. So many skills can be developed by becoming a global educator. Join this Google+ community to learn how other teachers are using Hangouts. And this Google+ community if you are interested in connecting your classrooms.

Step 3: Start a blog and share regularly. Read other blogs and start conversations through comments. When starting a blog it is important to start with short blogs, 250 words. Try and challenge yourself to write once every two weeks or even once a week. Too often we feel that we have nothing to share or that we are sharing something that has already been shared. Don’t think this way! Many people like to read different blogs about the same subject gleaning different perspectives from each blog. Blogging is also a great way to reflect and others can learn from your reflection. Click here for links to the most popular educational blogs.

Step 4: Create your own PD by taking on online class at your own pace or attending an Edcamp. There are so many opportunities out there for you to learn what you want to learn, when you want to learn it. There are webinars, Google+ Hangouts, MOOC-ed’s (Massive Open Online Courses for Educators) and Edcamps that can help you focus your learning. Take a hold of your own learning and dive right in.

Step 5: Share and reflect upon your experiences. During your journey to becoming a connected educator, share your thoughts and experiences with others through some of the tools you used above. Share out on Twitter, post on your Facebook page, host a Hangout, write a blog post, participate in an Edcamp. Whatever you choose to do, others can learn from you as they go on their journey to becoming a connected educator.

Written by Jeanette Carlson

Friday, October 31, 2014

Apple Learning Tour- Worth the Time

Recently myself and my two colleagues, Ann Feldmann & Jeanette Carlson, attended an Apple Event focused on curriculum in the classroom.  Our local Apple reps hosted and they did an amazing job.  What was so great about our time there was that we had time to play.  Yes, I said it! “Play”!  We were allowed to explore apps, design small projects, and reflect on our ideas.  We owned our learning with our guide, Barry Sevett, from Apple.  

Even though we are fairly well versed in all things Apple it was a good way to spend the day being the learner and not the trainer.  There are always more things we can learn from each other when given the time.

The Pyramids
I was reminded of amazing apps, books, and other resources that have strong ties to our curriculum, like the apps Back in Time and Human Body.  These are apps that even though content based could be used in so many classrooms.  I was also reminded of the rich resources in the iBooks Store.  One in particular got me excited.  E.O. Wilson’s Book of Life on Earth is just beautiful and is full of accurate scientific material.  He has now broken his book into 7 different books that are absolutely free!  I already have one teacher trying those out.  We had Romeo and Juliet read aloud to us in a variety of forms.  We checked out Lit2go audio books which are also free.  We went inside the Pyramids in Egypt from an app named The Pyramids.  We watched videos of students creating their own iBooks and publishing them to the NeBooks Project.   We enrolled in an iTunes U Course that we took with us for even more resources.  We participated in a backchannel discussion via our iTunes U course throughout the day.  I appreciated how Apple used solid teaching pedagogy during their own trainings as solid models for educators.   

The Human Body

Back in Time

Sometimes it is human nature to become satiated with a product or an idea.  I fear that some educators and leaders have done this with iPads and are considering other options.  Why, I ask would you go with any other tool than Apple when their wealth of resources for education is so huge you can hardly soak it all up?  The creation piece, individualized learning opportunities, and access to the world cannot be replicated with other devices.  

As trainers and sought after leaders in our field, it was an excellent reminder that what we are doing in our classrooms of iPads is transforming learning for kids.   Change takes time and a commitment to change takes persistence.  

If you’d like more information about the resources we learned more about, please email us, tweet us, or Facebook us.  

Happy Learning and Happy Creating

Written by:  Jennifer Krzystowczyk  


Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Google Hangouts! Connecting Your Students to the World

Google Hangouts are a great way to connect your students to the world.  Recently, Mrs. Keene from Leonard Lawrence Elementary hung-out with a teacher from Raleigh, North Carolina.  The end goal is that these two classes will embark on a blogging buddy journey this year.  Each student will have a buddy who leaves comments and suggestions on each other’s writing pieces posted on their respective sites.  

But first, they had to figure out where the other class lived and what grade they were in.  There are several roles involved in a good hangout.  Here are the roles we used to make the hangout successful:

  • Greeters:  These people had a clever opening and welcome greeting for the other class.  
  • A Videographer:  This person is in charge of capturing the video as the hangout is happening.
  • A Photographer:  This person takes still shots to be used in a video once the hangout is over to showcase the hangout, (see below).
  • Inquisitors: These students work in groups to come up with closed ended questions that help the mappers determine the location of the class in question.  For our Hangout we had three different inquisitor groups.
  • Documenters:  These people work on a collaborative Google doc to take notes during the hangout to document questions and answers in case anything is questioned later on.
  • The Mappers:  These students have maps in front of them.  Based on the answers to the questions being asked, they mark through areas that are eliminated.  
  • Closers:  These students say a polite “thanks” and close out the hangout with follow up steps if necessary.  

I was impressed with their questions and they learned a little bit about time zones, different foods, and sporting events in both states.  Our goal was accomplished!  Not only did the students learn a bit more about their world and others in it, they had to use deductive reasoning to solve the puzzle.

And now the fun begins!  I can’t wait to see how their blogging buddy partnership is going to flourish and impact their motivation for high quality writing.  The whole thing took about an hour including prep time, and I think was worth it.  Check out the video below from their experience.  

Written by:  Jenny Krzystowczyk

Thursday, October 2, 2014

Project Matters: Metro Students Create Mobile Apps for the Zoo

by Guest Blogger:  Cassi Tucker

About the Project
The NRI Zoo Project was the second half of Project MATTERS, the two-year STEM-education focused research initiative funded by the Nebraska Research Initiative.  It took place from December 2013 through May 2014, and was a collaborative effort bringing together a number of community partners, with the goal of teaching middle and high school students from the Omaha area how to program mobile applications.  Beginning with the December kickoff, students participated in monthly workshops, in addition to independent work during the rest of the month, gradually building up a self-defined app idea until the final event, a celebratory/demonstration event hosted at the Henry Doorly Zoo & Aquarium.  To read a short blurb from the UNO team about the project, you can visit here:

Key Partners
To make the project a success, we relied on several key individuals and groups working together.  From the University of Nebraska at Omaha (UNO) came Neal Grandgenett, from the College of Education (and the individual in charge of the grant); Zac Fowler, who is in charge of student minions at the Attic, a development group out of the College of Information Science and Technology; and myself and my coworker Ben (we’re two of the minions).  Our role was to facilitate everything and help the students during the course of the project, in whatever form that help needed to take.

From the Henry Doorly Zoo & Aquarium, we had two partners from the educational outreach department, who helped students identify projects that would be meaningful to the Zoo, as well as providing feedback to both the students and the UNO team and helping to coordinate a deployment plan.

Finally, we of course had our high school partners—four high schools (Bellevue East, Westside, Gretna, Gross Catholic) and one middle school (Papillion Jr. High) participated, and from them six student teams were developed; these teachers devoted a great deal of time and energy to help the students with development, attended meetings on Saturdays, and keep the UNO and Zoo teams informed about what the students were working on and how things were progressing.  For additional information about the project and full details of each team’s final app, please visit

Project Structure
Every school produced a team of students (or two!) who self-organized and identified the project they wanted to work on; the only major limitation given to them was that their app idea had to somehow incorporate the Zoo goals.  This created an enormous diversity in project ideas and, we hoped, would lead to higher engagement as the students were working on something they were genuinely interested in building.  All six teams chose different app ideas to go with; some ideas that began similarly quickly diverged as the teams narrowed their focus and honed in on what they really wanted to build.  Learning for the project was self-directed; students were always welcome to ask for help from the Attic team, but were encouraged to choose their own development tools, find solutions to problems, and learn the skills necessary to accomplish their goals.

Each month, the teams turned in a log of their progress and attended a meeting held either at the Zoo or on UNO’s campus; these were either workshop days, where the Attic team taught the students a new tool or technique to help them along, or demo days, when the students brought their work and showed it off, getting feedback and suggestions to move forward.  Students were given incentives to attend the meetings (such as science books, DIY kits, and other fun STEM education things), and on Zoo meeting days were also given the opportunity to wander around the Zoo, gathering information or testing their apps out in the target environment.

Student Development
Over the course of the project, students really took a lot of initiative in building their apps, some of which were extremely ambitious and complex ideas.  The Attic team worked to facilitate the success of each team, but really left it primarily to the students to research solutions to their problems and to articulate specific questions about things they needed helped with.  In some ways, it was almost like the students were learning how to learn; the success of their projects depended on their ability to independently find solutions.  The students really got invested in their projects this way and as such worked extremely hard to make them successful, putting in a lot of time and effort (both during and outside of school hours).  Not all projects were finished at the end of six months (primarily because, as I mentioned earlier, some of the teams were really ambitious in what they wanted to accomplish) but even the teams that didn’t finish had put in a lot of development time, did a lot of learning, and ended up with at least a partial product to show off at the final demo event.

Overall, the project was an enormous success.  The goal here wasn’t to have perfect, polished, professional applications built for the Zoo; the goal was to engage students in STEM education, interest them in the possibilities of continuing down this path, and give them the tools to direct their own interests.  In those goals, I think we saw overwhelming success; some students even identified a career path in mobile app development that they wanted to pursue.
Within each team there was also some definite growth for the members, from my own perspective.  Over the course of the six months, I saw students really find their own skills to contribute to their team—development, design, graphics, or some other role—and grow in confidence.  Students who started out by asking timid questions, assuming that they had probably just done something wrong or it was a dumb question to begin with, ended the project able to confidently ask questions and articulate what they had done to try to solve the problems.  For many of the students, this was a first foray into real programming (that is, programming with a real goal at the end, not just a “Hello World” and a grade) and that growth in confidence in their own abilities will, I think, be a strong asset for the students in the future, particularly those who continue to build on this programming knowledge.
That’s not to say there aren’t things I would suggest doing differently if I could whip out my Time-Turner and go back.  The team logs were intended to give the Attic team a better idea of what kind of development workshops would be most helpful to the teams; however, the semi-consistent enforcement of turning them in meant that we weren’t always on the same page and therefore the Saturday workshops weren’t always meaningful for the students.  The team logs were extremely helpful when we had them, so in future similar projects I would definitely have them turned in more regularly.  Additionally, because we allowed the teams to choose any project and any tools they wanted…sometimes they picked things that we had never used before.  One team in particular used a JavaScript library called CreateJS, which we at the Attic had never used before—for us, it could be challenging to help solve problems when we were trying to learn everything on the fly as well.  So, again with my Time-Turner, I’d go back and start learning some of those tools earlier so as to better help the students.  

Final Thoughts
This project was one of my absolute favorites to work on so far in my (student) career.  Coming from a high school with no programming classes at all, I understand that many students will shy away from choosing college majors in technology and engineering simply because of lack of prior exposure.  This project gave students a safe, self-driven, no-fail way to get their feet wet in the world of technology, and they were able to try ambitious new things and hone their skills.  I think that, overall, this project was a great success, due to a combination of invested partners and dedicated teachers and student teams.

Cassandra Tucker is a senior at the University of Nebraska at Omaha, working on degrees in History and IT Innovation.  She plans to pursue a Masters degree focusing on the Digital Humanities upon completion of her undergraduate work.  In her spare time, she—wait, she doesn’t have spare time.