This Class is Different

Barely into the teenage years, these students are participating in something rare.  

GUEST COLUMN | by Rob O’Leary

CREDIT eSchoolViewIt’s not precisely a class that looks as it seems. The syllabus clearly outlines topics: HTML, CSS, JavaScript and Content Management Systems. The students are expected to show a clear understanding of each topic and demonstrate proficient application at the course’s completion. Recent class time discussions focused on external style sheets, cascading style sheets, page attributes and best practices in their application. The students debated the merits of inline styling and internal CSS — a conversation germane to a course on coding.

Yet, this class is different.

It’s exciting — and quite moving, actually — to teach students at such a young age some of the skills to build a foundation that will ultimately shape our collective futures.

The students who fill the room are barely into their teenage years. They are enrolled in eighth-grade at Hannah J. Aston Middle School in Reynoldsburg, Ohio and are participating in a Coding Academy class.

Reynoldsburg City Schools, just east of Columbus, the state’s capital, is a major player in developing education technology coursework and curriculum. In fact, the high school is one of three high schools in the country named in President Obama’s high school redesign plan that’s part of his 2014 Budget Proposal for Education. Reynoldsburg’s career and college readiness academies (click to expand the models link) were identified for deepening reform in key areas of K-12 education.

Baldwin Road Junior High (grades 5-8) was named a STEM platform school by the state of Ohio. The curriculum at two of the district’s elementary buildings — Herbert Mills and Summit Road STEM — are STEM-focused schools of choice. The curricula for the schools were completely revamped to create an environment that uses technology and mathematical techniques to foster innovative thinking and encourage creative solutions to real-world problems.

Reynoldsburg City Schools is also just one of two member districts in the state of Ohio to belong to the Digital Promise League of Innovative Schools. The national coalition is made up of 40 public school districts and educational agencies that strives to spur innovation in education, support research that encourages lifelong learning and promotes the development of skill sets needed to be competitive in the global economy. The organization is authorized by Congress and works with school systems in two dozen states across the country.

The Hannah J. Ashton Middle School coding and web class is part of the school’s blended-learning approach. My company has volunteered a dedicated staff member to the school for the elective for the past two years.

We’re fortunate to work in partnership with the district and support its innovative approach to educating students. My company was hired several years ago to design and host Reynoldsburg’s website. The relationship has grown into a very meaningful and a significant component of our company’s “Investing in the Future” program.

We are a service-minded team and want to pay forward to those who will become our leaders. It’s part of our commitment to helping educators ensure their students learn the 21st century skills that will help them be successful beyond their secondary education.

We start with the very beginning in the course and teach students about the first computers. They work their way up to the Internet and talk about the “billion little things” that make the revolutionary tool something more tangible to them.

Then, it’s on to coding. We teach HTML basics, page illustration, CSS and Javascript – and help the students understand why these tools are important and relevant in the world in which they will be expected to compete for real jobs in a real economy.

The students have built skeleton sites and get to see their work in action. They will continue to refine their creations this spring to ensure the sites can function in a real-world application. They will culminate the year with a Garage Band project where they have to create a working website after they’ve spent some time using the eSchoolView CMS.

Here is the big difference for us. Many of the skills our staff — and those of our generation in this industry — are self-taught. We’ve learned how to use the tools as the products were conceptualized and developed. It’s exciting — and quite moving, actually — to teach students at such a young age some of the skills to build a foundation that will ultimately shape our collective futures.

As for the district as a whole, Reynoldsburg is leading the charge in creating Innovation Generation (a Pathway to Prosperity Network) that aims to increase the number of students who graduate and earn postsecondary credit in courses with economically viable collateral. The state awarded $14.4 million to the district to create the consortium of 12 schools through its Straight A Fund grant program, which was created to funnel state dollars to initiatives that spur innovation in schools and classrooms. Innovation Generation will connect school districts with outside educational agencies and community colleges.

Rob OLeary is Founder/Executive Director of eSchoolView, a client-oriented organization offering leading edge, user-friendly content management systems and web-based software to school districts and educational support organizations. He was recognized as a finalist in the leadership category of the 2014 EdTech Digest Awards Program; two of the company’s products were named Cool Tool finalists. In less than three years, eSchoolView has grown quickly and now serves over 450 clients in 22 states.

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