Action-Based Education: solving a real problem

Teacher Chris Benbow, Upper School Principal, wrote this piece in his November 12, 2015 edition of Just The Facts:

“In what was perhaps a Westtown first, an Advanced Computer Science class announcement brought the house down in Joint Collection on Tuesday. In a presentation that would have made Steve Jobs proud, a student described the results of a project that he and six of his classmates have been working on since late September.   

In short, they’ve created a tool that reads a student’s graphic MyBackpack schedule, translates it into data, and imports it into Google Calendar for use on smartphones, iPads, and laptops. The grace and utility of this product was immediately obvious to the audience, and they erupted in wild cheers and applause. By that afternoon, many had already translated their static schedules into a live calendar.

After countless hours of writing code and troubleshooting, the program still isn’t perfect, but it’s very, very good, and the roll out has been impressively smooth. Even if it had flopped, though, I’d still be writing about this today. After all, this is exactly what we mean by Action Based Education. Learning through doing: identifying problems in the world around us, working creatively and collaboratively to solve them, and sharing the results in an impactful way. And while the content area, details, and scale may vary, this is what we’re doing in the Upper School every day.”

Behind the scenes, what does this education look like in the classroom? T. Tom Gilbert reported that the first sign that this student project was developing into DSC_8504a truly special
experience was when the group abandoned their desks to huddle. The requirements of the project were anchored in delivering a solution that would meet a real students’ need and would be widely adopted by our students. Brainstorming led to small experiments in code, which informed design approaches, which then triggered additional brainstorms.  T. Tom limited his input to asking questions focused on the ultimate users of the tool, such as “why would students like this?” or “how else might we accomplish this?” 

At different timDSC_8506es in the process many different fingers were on the keyboards. Rarely, however, did progress get made without active collaboration and consensus. Debates and arguments were fairly common in the classroom. T. Tom intervened in these only when such passionate interchanges bordered on the possibility of failing to respect one’s teammates. 

One early observation during group dynamics discussions opened important possibilities to new project approaches. Each student brings a different set of technical skills, as if we had a language class where each participant spoke a different language. 

Screen Shot 2015-11-16 at 4.30.07 PM

Screen Shot 2015-11-16 at 4.35.37 PMDo Westtown students actually like the results of the project? Here’s what two students said about it.

This is the Joint Collection presentation (although without the live presentation – the detailed content begins at 1:00) and here is the video tutorial showing students how to use the tool.

About Westtown School

Westtown School is a Pre-K through 12th grade Quaker, coed, college preparatory day and boarding school in West Chester, PA.
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2 Responses to Action-Based Education: solving a real problem

  1. Dear, Marion says:

    How cool! I heard about this while at the NCSS conference. I think Westtown students are intuitive problem solvers. Marion Dear

  2. Pingback: Developing Westtown Resort (1) | Kevin Wang | Independent Seminar Blog

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