Emike Omogbai spotlights the TCS programme that is transforming the way students learn and apply their skills to solve real-world problems
It’s a few days before winter break at Franklin Middle School (MS) in the quaint town of Janesville, Wisconsin. The halls are brimming with excitement, but it is not because the students will soon begin their holidays. Peek into a classroom and you’ll find the answer. Kids huddled in groups around the room putting their computational thinking and problem solving practices to work. Today’s challenge, how to use a drone to get past traffic and deliver supplies to an area in need, prompts excited debate about possible solutions and students actively using algorithms and building models.
The Janesville School District is an early adopter of the Ignite My Future in School (IMFIS) programme, a one-of-a-kind initiative that combines traditional pedagogy (the practice of teaching an academic subject or theoretical concept) with computational thinking, a foundational skill for 21st century success.
Led by a partnership between Tata Consultancy Services (TCS) and Discovery Education, the top provider of digital education content, IMFIS is transforming the way students across America learn. The programme also provides middle-school educators with standards-aligned, transdisciplinary resources designed to effectively engage classrooms with the foundations of computational thinking across core subjects.
“Ignite My Future is poised to transform the way we conduct education,” says Shanata Craig, a teacher at the Ann Richards STEM Academy in Dallas, Texas.
Steve Pophal, superintendent of the Janesville School District, who spent several hours observing IMFIS lessons at Franklin MS, agrees. “As an administrator, I’ve been privileged to observe classrooms for 30 years, and this was the most remarkable in my career,” he says.
Franklin MS conducted a week-long session where educators in each grade-level incorporated IMFIS lesson plans into their syllabi. Students in the 8th grade were occupied in Saving Species, 7th graders learned Drop the Beat and Drone Delivery, while the 6th grade absorbed Drone Delivery and Capable Cobot (a co-robot capable of interacting with humans). The children were interested not only because they enjoyed the exercises, participated in challenges, solved puzzles, and flew drones; they were also able to grasp how appropriate these skills are for their future.
Pophal adds, “I would be remiss if I neglected to share teacher feedback. Staff was invigorated to see student success and depth of learning come to life before their eyes. Teachers are won over.”
His observations elucidate the role educators play in democratising this new curriculum. Educators must buy into the programme for it to be effective. “Training the trainer” is central to the programme’s success.
IMFIS, which is offered free, has already engaged more than 2,500 educators through professional development and virtual sessions, and reached more than 151,000 students. It aims to engage 20,000 teachers and 1 million students in America by 2021.
“As an industry leader, TCS has a fundamental responsibility to equip the next generation of students with computation thinking and digital fluency that are critical to succeed in their future careers,” says Surya Kant, president of TCS North America, United Kingdom and Europe operations.
The skills learned from the programme are advantageous to careers in practically every industry, including business and financial markets, consumer products, hospitality, or public goods and government services like infrastructure, education, military, and police. Companies increasingly seek employees who can actively discern and rationalise dilemmas along with devising solutions.
And educators across America are beginning to recognise this.
Cheryl Capozzoli, district science/STEM coordinator, Harrisburg School District, Pennsylvania, says, “Computational thinking is the latest skill set that addresses the demands of the future workplace. It enables us to analyse and process data algorithmically and offers a process for problem-solving, where one develops a series of steps to solve open-ended problems.”
The Harrisburg School District, she adds, has partnered with TCS and Discovery Education “to support our vision for equity in computational thinking and STEM.”
Devin Gerrity, Foreign Languages Teacher, Ann Richards STEM Academy, adds, “It’s exciting to see the possibility of opening up doors through the Ignite My Future in school curriculum, as well as create connections that haven’t been previously explored.”
The next wave of IMFIS will see launches in school districts throughout the northeast and southeast of America during the summer of 2018. Eventually, more than 3,000 TCS employees will be actively involved as mentors and support the building of local coalitions in each city as the programme progresses.
As Susanne Thompson, senior vice president of corporate educations partnerships, Discovery Education, puts it, “The careers of the future are changing almost faster than we can keep up with them. The 21st century challenges we face require creative, collaborative and adaptable solutions — IMFIS helps us to prepare the next generation of solution-seekers with both advanced and agile skills.”