This feature is part of a series of stories spotlighting teachers and students using innovative technology in the classroom.
For educators like Tara Bordeaux, named Texas Teacher of the Year in 2018, Apple’s Teacher Coding Academies are transformative.
“The training makes you feel like you really can accomplish anything,” says Bordeaux. “It was really a once-in-a-lifetime experience.”
The elementary, high school and college educators who attended this summer’s academies came from different states, schools and backgrounds – but they all shared one new and very important responsibility: shepherding their students into a world where coding is a common language. The teachers are determined not only to teach their students about coding, but to show them how they can channel that knowledge to make the world a better place, starting with their communities. On that front, they’re leading by example.
In Boise, the teachers designed an app to help the police department better serve and communicate with the city’s homeless population, connecting the community to open shelter beds and food banks.
In Austin, teachers focused on Ronald McDonald House, a charity that provides housing for families whose children are receiving critical medical care. In this case, they created an app prototype to help families communicate with the charity during their stay.
And in Columbus, the educators devised an app that helps firefighters log and monitor the amount of time they were exposed to dangerous carcinogens while on the job.
These app prototypes were dreamed up during five week-long Teacher Coding Academies held this summer as part of Apple’s Community Education Initiative, which introduces coding opportunities to underrepresented communities nationwide. Educators from nearly 70 education institutions serving tens of thousands of students attended the first cohort of academies in Houston, Austin, Boise, Nashville and Columbus, which used Challenge Based Learning to teach coding and connect communities.
“By the time the week is over you feel confident enough to go back to your classrooms and pass the skills on to your students.”
At the beginning of each week, members of local organizations presented a challenge they face to the group and asked the teachers to design an app to meet that specific need. After breaking up into smaller teams, Apple Professional Learning Specialists helped the teachers design their apps, introducing the building blocks of coding along the way with Apple’s coding language Swift and the Everyone Can Code curriculum. The week ended with a showcase, where the teams presented their app prototypes to the community organizations.
Bordeaux was initially apprehensive about attending the Austin Teacher Coding Academy because she doesn’t consider herself tech savvy when it comes to coding.
“I’ve been to coding trainings and those were kind of stiff and hard to understand,” says Bordeaux. “I felt like people were expecting me to have more of a background in coding than I actually had. But that was completely the opposite with Apple. By the time the week is over you feel confident enough to go back to your classrooms and pass the skills on to your students.”
When Bordeaux returns to Navarro Early College High School in Austin to resume her photography and filmmaking classes this fall, she will introduce augmented reality, and start a Girls Who Code club. In doing so, she’ll help bring Apple’s Everyone Can Code and Everyone Can Create curricula to life.
The academies reflected the great diversity of America’s educators. Fourteen Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) sent faculty, STEM students and IT staff to participate in the Nashville academy, hosted by Tennessee State University. Each of the HBCUs will spend the next year adding coding courses and clubs to their campuses – and Apple and TSU will support their efforts with on-site visits and online training.
For Dr. Robbie Melton, TSU’s interim Dean of Graduate and Professional Studies and the catalyst for the Nashville academy, this partnership means a new start for the HBCU community, with the goal of boosting enrollment nationwide.
“Without this mission critical initiative, our students will not be prepared and can’t compete in the digital world of today,” says Dr. Melton. “And we’re looking at this as a holistic initiative, where no one will be left out. We’re going to immerse the entire community in coding.”
Dillard University computer science instructor Dennis Sigur, who has taught at HBCUs for more than two decades, believes this program is crucial to helping his students realize career opportunities in app development.
“For the HBCUs, it’s another door to success,” says Sigur. “Most of our students come from backgrounds where in high school there are no computer science classes offered, so that first taste of technology aside from their cell phone and the internet is on their college campus. So this has a major impact for our universities.”
In every city, the community organizations were eager to continue working with the teams to bring these app prototypes to life. That included Boise Police Chief Bill Bones, who was thrilled with what the teachers created to help his officers connect with the city’s homeless population.
“I would like to take a strategic look at how we could get this app built because they have [designed] a usable product in a week,” says Chief Bones. “Not only would it make a difference in helping people get resources, and eventually move out of [homelessness], it would absolutely save lives.