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Using Computing as a Tool for Good

A March 29th press release by Northrop Grumman Corporation (1) on STEM education captured my attention. The headline was "Azusa campus recently hosted the Lego STEM project competition, to introduce [middle school] students to the practical application of science, technology, engineering and mathematics". The goal of this competition was to challenge students to design a solar-powered product with their Lego kits that would benefit the environment.

To support the competition, Stephen J. Toner (VP of Northrop's Azusa Operations) wrote that "Tomorrow's leaders in the STEM fields need to be cultivated at an early age during their academic journey in the educational system." As I've expressed in earlier blogs, I fully agree with Toner's belief that early exposure to computer science increases the likelihood of students' future interest in STEM careers.

This competition exemplified the core ideals I have been sharing with my students since the beginning of the school year. The information contained within the release provided examples of how other organizations were utilizing computer programming to address environmental concerns. I was busy planning my school's annual Earth Day celebration, so the timing of this article couldn't have been better.

Environmental literacy is an important part of a framework developed by the Partnership for 21st Century Skills (2). So I decided to focus the students' energy on investigating and analyzing environmental issues and then coming up with technological solutions. In addition to researching concerns and brainstorming ideas, I was eager to have my students design solutions which would inspire action on environmental issues - another important component of the 21st Century framework.

Using technology as a tool for change is not a new idea. While preparing my unit, I came across a few other programming competitions with similar goals. One such competition, Games for Change (3) states on their website that their mission is to "Catalyze Social Impact Through Digital Games" by "facilitating the creation and distribution of social impact games that serve as critical tools in humanitarian and educational efforts".

After I presented the challenge to my students, I was pleasantly surprised when, in addition to the usual onslaught of PowerPoint slide shows and Animoto Videos, a couple of my students set their sights a little higher. They decided to create Scratch programs or design their own websites.

I have always been a big proponent of social action. Thanks to current research supporting social justice initiatives in education, I now have the tools to make this happen and the impetus to see it through.

Earth Day is only three days away. My students are eagerly putting the finishing touches on their projects to share them with their classmates. Their excitement is palpable. They believe their actions can make a difference, and so do I. A popular quote by Bill Gates says it all "As we look ahead into the next century, leaders will be those who empower others". Thanks to technology, my students can now be an instrument for change. What more could a teacher ask for?

1. http://www.irconnect.com/noc/press/pages/news_releases.html?d=250665.
2. http://www.p21.org/storage/documents/P21_Framework_Definitions.pdf.
3. http://www.gamesforchange.org/.

Patrice Gans
CSTA K-8 Representative


Yes, this is very valuable program which also helps to enhance knowledge and analytical skills. No wonder this would be accordingly beneficial for the betterment of the country.

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