Thursday, June 4, 2009

Showcase 2009 - Tuesday, May 12, 2009

ITA students learn a lot in the classroom, whether it be college preparatory study skills or technological capabilities. But there’s only so much we as instructors can teach them -- so much of learning comes by experience. The annual ITA Showcase is one way students learn by experiencing something we instructors are blessed with far more often -- teaching.

Every year, ITA staff chooses a theme on which students develop a project presentation. This year our theme was ‘Inventing Change’: students focused on creating an invention idea which would in some way bring more peace and justice to the world. Students, though not by any means required to create the actual invention, could use any of the programs available through ITA to develop their idea in a visual presentation. The culmination of this experience is a journey to local elementary schools to ‘showcase’ the products of our students’ minds.

Planning for the showcase begins months in advance, as the instructors meet to discuss possible themes. This year, we threw around many different possibilities before settling on the ‘Inventing Change’ theme. We wanted something that would get the students thinking in more global terms of world problems and issues. After choosing the theme, we put together a presentation, explaining the requirements of the presentation and the age level to which the students would be presenting.

Showcase work started at different times for each of the different classes – many students were still working on their final Behind the Wheel Projects when we presented the Showcase. Once they had finished their regular class requirements, they were ready to start on the next task . . .

After much head scratching, group consulting, and idea bouncing, the presentations started to take shape. Some were products of sudden flashes of inspiration; others collected more slowly. Eventually, each student had their idea and at least a rough presentation. These we saved on our systems for a preliminary presentation just amongst us ITA students and staff during the last Saturday session. This presentation was important as not every student was able to make it to the actual Showcase, since attending requires missing a day of school.

The presentation was a great way to end our ITA session time this year, and was very useful as some presentation ran into technical difficulties. We could all enjoy the products of one another’s work and troubleshoot for the actual event.

The day began with a morning breakfast all together at the Computer Science building – we wanted to make sure that, even though our students had to wake up a bit early, they at least had gotten breakfast! After a short bus ride, we arrived at Emerson Elementary. We were given a nice-sized auditorium to set up our nineteen projects. Each student or group of students set up a computer, facing outward, ready for an audience. Those with sound also had headphones. Set up took very little time and soon we had our first batch of kids meandering through the doors.

This being the first year we went to elementary schools instead of middle schools, I know there was some concern about the age difference. Perhaps the younger students would need more stimulation than just the projects to keep them interested. In the end, however, we discovered that the younger children (first though third graders) seemed to be our most attentive audience! Going around from station to station fascinated them, certainly because of the technology but their interest was probably mostly captivated by the big, cool high school-ers behind the technology! They listened attentively as our ITA students explained, encouraged, ahem, specific votes, and even grooved to the music of their projects!

We really saw our students grow exponentially through the process. They seem to mature in a few instants; as soon as younger, shorter miniatures appeared in the room, the students seemed to gain a grasp of the responsibility they have as mentors of a younger generation. They interacted comfortably and smoothly, maintaining a patient attitude of fun.

Aside from challenging our own students, the showcase is also meant to raise awareness, amongst younger students and teachers, of ITA and the opportunities offered through our programs. As the elementary kids came in, we had ITA student greeters sharing about the program, its purpose and practice. At the end, AJ and others concluded, stressing the importance of keeping up grades and being a good student in order to experience and learn the same things they saw these cool high school-ers experiencing and learning! Hopefully, this presentation planted seeds and to prepare these students for academic success.

The afternoon was very similar, as we loaded the bus and headed off for Marquette Elementary. I was encouraged by how much the students changed even throughout the course of the day – their presentations the second time through grew clearer and more impassioned. The elementary students were very receptive – many of them started asking when the inventions our students were presenting would be available to the public! Hmm , not for a couple of years . . .

Overall, the day was a complete success!
The elementary school kids were engaged and excited about the projects, our students were growing through teaching and mentoring, and ITA’s overall message of academic stewardship and the importance of effort reached new corners of the earth. We brought a little more peace and justice to the world.

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