News

District adds course on problem solving with technology

By Tim O'Brien, Times Union
September 9th, 2016

Schools will recruit artists, designers, and tech-minded students for creative problem-solving

problem solving

When it comes to using technology, teachers have a lot to learn from their digital-era students who are always up to date on the latest apps or social media applications.

In the North Colonie school district, the plan this school year is take advantage of their pupils’ tech savvy by enlisting them to solve problems.

Students will get a half-credit for participating in the district’s information technology program. The program is an outgrowth of one launched last school year, where students volunteered time in the library to help classmates with technology-related issues.

“A part of it is helping students with technology but it’s also about teaching them,” said incoming senior Unnas Hussain. “We don’t just want tech students. We want artists. We want designers.”

As an example of the problem-solving students can do, they point to a group of Girl Scouts who wanted to assist students just learning English as they get oriented to Shaker Junior High School. The students hit on the idea of posting signs with QR codes that could be read by a smartphone, offering a translation into the students’ native language.

That thought would not have occurred to a teacher or administrator, said Kathy Skeals, assistant superintendent for curriculum and instruction for the district.

Hussain was among students who made a video about the program, which will hold its first meeting for interested students Sept. 15. Helping students learn to make videos or creating instructional videos is part of what the students could produce.

Teachers and administrators say they are deliberately vague on what students could do because they want them to generate their own ideas.

“I want this to be a total, student-created idea,” said Gary Cimorelli, technology integration specialist for the district.

Lauren Sheeler, a Spanish teacher and dean for grades 11 and 12, said tech support is still a big part of the program. Participating students spend one hour a week helping classmates.

The expansion will require them to work independently on a school project or tutorial.

“It’s collaborative. Different kids will be working on different things,” she said. “We’re looking for kids who want to look for new information, new apps. … If you give them too many instructions, you start limiting what the students can do.”

Skeals added the program will mirror how a workplace runs. “People sit around and brainstorm ‘We have this problem. How do we solve it?’ ” she said.

The program also will provide a way to tap into students’ creativity not otherwise available, Sheeler said. “This gives students in school if they are not an athlete, not in theater, it’s another outlet where they can contribute to the school.”

During his time helping students as a tech adviser in the library, Hussain said he saw the questions change over the course of the year.

“The problems started to become different, more complex,” he said.

The students in the program will create a website where their ideas can be posted and shared.

Sheeler said students today are much more accustomed than their instructors to problem-solving with technology.

“It’s probably another decade before the digital age kids are teaching,” she said.

“If we don’t use our students as our best resource, we’re missing out,” Skeals agreed.

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