What do digital notebooks, engineering, and singer/rapper, Pharrell Williams, all have in common? They’re all involved in teaching valuable STEM skills to the students at Dozier Middle School in Newport News Public Schools. As a part of an Early Concept Grant for Exploratory Research Project, funded by the National Science Foundation, Brandie Wright, a Technical Education teacher at Dozier Middle School, was paired with Esther Boachie, an undergraduate in computer engineering at Virginia Tech University and a member of the National Society of Black Engineers. Together, this dynamic team designed an interactive and engaging learning experience for middle school students. Esther is working in collaboration with Brandie to apply her growing knowledge of computer science to the classroom environment by serving as an additional mentor to her students. Brandie is one of seven teachers who are partnering with STEM undergraduates at local minority-serving institutions to incorporate our Digital Design Notebook tool to structure a class project led by this teacher-engineer duo. This class is participating in the “Your Voice Is Power” learning experience and coding competition sponsored by Amazon and Pharrell Williams philanthropic organization, YELLOW.
The goal of the “Your Voice Is Power” competition is for students to explore how computer science, music, and entrepreneurship can advance racial equity. Using the Digital Design Notebook as a space for students, teachers, and STEM undergraduates to communicate with each other, Brandie and Esther are teaching their students the coding and technical skills necessary to create a musical remix using Pharrell’s new song,
“Entrepreneur.” Brandie and Esther are working together to teach a variety of Career & Technical Education (CTE) standards like the “Engineering Design Process”, and “Product Design with the Goal of Innovation,” along with workplace readiness skills like creativity, effective reading and listening skills, critical thinking, and problem-solving. The Digital Design Notebook allows the students to document their design decisions, while receiving quick and ongoing feedback from Brandie and Esther in the current remote setting of their class. Undergraduate engineer, Esther, said, “The students are ready to learn, and have really embraced the whole project!” She’s been able to see how each of the students learn so she can provide individual support and guidance.
The “Your Voice Is Power” competition positions students to learn the Python programming language. Esther has been an instrumental addition to Brandie’s class due to her years of experience using Python
while in the Computer Engineering program at Virginia Tech. Brandie emphasizes that the project is cross-curricular and teaches early and relevant skills necessary for a strong foundation in future STEM courses. She is excited about the positive response so far, as students love creating their own songs as a part of the multi-step project. While advancing their knowledge of computational technical skills is its own reward, Brandie and Esther’s students have the opportunity to compete as a part of the national “Your Voice Is Power” competition. Five students from across the country will win a $5,000 scholarship or grant to start their own business, with additional awards for participating students. We at the Center for Innovation in Learning Design are so excited by the work that Brandie, Esther, and their students have done to learn and grow through this project. Through their amazing partnership, they’ve certainly been able to remix the learning process.