C-Town Summer Bridge Program: A Professor’s Perspective

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Jaime Mahoney, an associate professor at Bunker Hill Community College, shares her involvement as an instructor for the C-Town Tech Summer Bridge Program.

Afterwards, be sure to read our “Applying the Framework” summary that connects Jaime’s story to the Students at the Center Framework.

 

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As the developer of the 2015 C-Town Tech Summer Bridge Session Information Technology (IT) curriculum, three quotes served as the inspiration upon which it was developed.

1. “The illiterate of the 21st century will not be those who cannot read and write, but those who cannot learn, unlearn, and relearn.” Alvin Toffler

The 21st century knowledge economy looks very different than the 20th century industrial one. Today learning, unlearning, and relearning is of critical importance, and it is essential in the field of IT in which software, hardware, and innovation that changes at rate that outpaces a four year college degree. Thus, topics selected for the Summer Bridge Program were based on their relevance to current IT topics and to enhance students’ love of learning and desire to become lifelong learners. The curriculum also focused on starting where students are in terms of IT knowledge and soft skills necessary for success and building a bridge to where they will need to be for the fall IT Problem Solving (ITPS)– a college credit bearing course. For example, riddles and challenges requiring different types of problem solving skills were offered daily as a competition for students with a prize built in to be awarded at the end of the three week session. Also, a field trip to the MIT Museum with a workshop on Lego Mindstorm robotics was built in to the curriculum as well so that students got to experience a hands-on experience outside of the classroom. Further, the schedule had a weekly visit from IT experts from our industry partner SAP to view presentations by the students of what they produced and provide real world constructive and positive feedback.

2. “Learning is not the product of teaching. Learning is the product of the activity of learners.” John Holt

This philosophy is core to the style of the curriculum in the bridge session which is modeled after the pedagogy of ITPS. ITPS uses a project or problem based pedagogy (PBL). Students identify what they already know, what they need to know, and how and where to access new information that may lead to resolution of the problem. As such, the instructor acts as a facilitator of learning who provides appropriate scaffolding of that process and measures student success via outcome based assessments. This methodology is highly transferable and builds the cognitive ability to apply knowledge gained to any situation a student might encounter. Such knowledge is highly valuable because it demonstrates more than rote memorization of an application’s functions. Therefore, problems are the main focus of all course activities, including discussions and labs. My perception is that the C-Town Tech Summer Bridge students, like my college students, enjoyed and internalized new learning from the activities that were most hands-on, and the activities that had them actively creating and building products or deliverables.

3. “Children learn as they play. Most importantly, in play children learn how to learn.” O. Fred Donalson

This concept as well aligned with the initial direction I received for the creation of the content: focus on “fun” being 60% of the content. Therefore, the design of the C-Town Tech Summer Bridge Session content can best be described as “sneaking the spinach into the brownie” meaning that students are learning IT concepts, problem solving, teamwork, and presentation skills all while they are having fun. As Randy Pausch says , “never underestimate the power of having fun”. So when building the curriculum I was focused on the students engaging in hands-on learning and also ensuring that the activity they were working on changed frequently to ensure that students continued to be engaged and have fun. I chose IT topics that students are most interested in [based on conversations with the IT high school teacher, Mr. Ayyappan] including: robotics, programming, game development, and cryptography and choose activities that students enjoy such as games and scavenger hunts and self selected product creation.

The first few days I kept asking the students if they were having fun, and they either didn’t respond or were very reluctant to say they were having fun. I hadn’t yet earned their trust and socially it was not cool to admit that learning is fun. But by the end of my time there, a few of them were willing to admit they were having more fun than they expected, all while learning and being eager for more. I consider that to be the greatest success of the C-Town Tech Summer Bridge Session.

As a mom and stepmom of four girls between the ages of 8 and 10, I found myself observing the female students and considering the future of STEM. It is well documented that girls and women are heavily underrepresented in STEM classes and STEM fields because they don’t feel they can do it or it isn’t for them and I want my daughters and my students to understand those beliefs are simply not true. I was thrilled that the female students thrived academically in the rigorous academic environment and embodied the dismantling of this myth. Further, all of the students were capable of doing all the assignments with regard to math ability and appeared to feel challenged but never over their head. In fact, several of the students had great difficulty pulling themselves away from the challenges we presented each day, in particular the online games that required you to solve puzzles to escape from a room.

Authored by Jaime Mahoney



Applying the Framework:
Looking at Personalized Learning

 

  • The author collaborated with teachers prior to developing her curriculum. She used this information to modify the curriculum and learning strategies so that the program would be more relevant and inviting to high school students.
  • The author focused on realistic, relatable concepts. “The curriculum…focused on starting where students are in terms of IT knowledge and soft skills necessary for success and building a bridge to where they will need to be for the fall IT Problem Solving (ITPS) course.” Relevant learning and 21st century skills were strategically in place to connect and deepen college and career-ready skills.
  • The collaborative nature of the program, coupled with a near-peer mentorship model, fostered learner curiosity throughout its duration and made learning fun. The program provided opportunities for students to meet their peers before the school year started, while connecting them with college-aged mentors for tutoring and project support. Research shows that peer interaction and learning in small groups allows for quick, critical feedback. Students have more opportunities for participation and deeper learning.

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