Andover Townsman, Andover, MA

April 25, 2013

Proposed AHS tech center aims to cultivate innovators

David Birnbach
Andover School Committee member

---- — At a recent School Committee meeting, I proposed that we establish a Center for Technology and Engineering at Andover High. This center would help our high school better adapt to the new demands of the 21st century, address the growing importance of technology and engineering, and offer vital courses that prepare our students for today’s innovation economy.

This center is not presently in the budget, and the School Committee will be voting on a final budget in the next week.

The budget, once approved, will then go before Town Meeting on May 6 for final adoption. The investment required to cover course materials, teacher training and laptops is $90,000 out of a $68 million budget.

The center’s mission: Raise innovators, visionaries and out-of-the-box thinkers; excite students about engineering and invention, cultivate critical thinking and creativity and infuse a deeper fluency with digital technology.

The center would offer five new courses beginning this fall:

Computational Thinking: Computing has changed the world in profound ways. This course will help students advance their abilities in computational thinking through the use of Scratch. Developed at MIT’s Media Lab, Scratch is a graphical programming language allowing students to build dynamic interactive media projects and gain important mathematical and computational ideas, while also learning to think creatively, reason systematically and work collaboratively.

Engineering as Problem Solving: This course is designed to excite students about engineering, empower them to problem solve and encourage an inventive culture at Andover High. It incorporates PBS’ “Design Squad,” an award-winning engineering series developed in partnership with the National Science Foundation. Students will brainstorm, design, build and test a different engineering project every week – using science, math and technology.

Computing, Apps and the Web: This course helps students become software creators, not just consumers. Students will explore the world of software engineering by creating smartphone and tablet apps using App Inventor, a visual software development environment co-developed at Google and MIT that appeals to students across the educational spectrum, including those who typically fear math and science.

Creativity and Innovation: Inspired by Stanford University’s popular “Crash Course on Creativity,” this course is designed to introduce students to a set of tools for generating new ideas individually and as part of a team. Each week, students will be presented with a new challenge that focuses on a different variable related to creativity.

Big Ideas: How Breakthroughs of the Past Shape our Future: Based on National Geographic’s “The Big Idea” series, this course will take students on a voyage through time, exploring the biggest innovations of today by moving back through history to uncover the foundations for groundbreaking science, technology and engineering concepts. Students will explore the history and future of 24 life-changing innovations across six realms, including information and communications, health and medicine, physics and cosmos, chemistry and materials, biology and the environment, and transportation and space exploration.

These courses build from our strategic plan and follow the 2014 Technology and Engineering Literacy Framework developed by the National Assessment Governing Board.

We can train our staff this summer to be ready to teach these courses beginning this fall, and hire new teachers if we don’t have the expertise in-house.

It is vital that this Center for Technology and Engineering be funded in our upcoming budget – and our School Committee, Superintendent Dr. Marinel McGrath and high school leadership team welcome your comments.

I created a website — www.andoverschools.org — where you can view more details about the center and the courses, and provide comments.

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David Birnbach is a member of the Andover School Committee and a lead proponent of the center.