TechStart’s classes for 1st-8th graders include robotics, programming, blogging, visual art, video game designing, building planning and other activities that prepare our students for a future in STEM. In TechStart, students work in groups and alone to complete projects and solve problems. I recently observed a 6th – 8th grade TechStart class and the entire 90 minutes was fascinating. My observation of the class was for Youth Program Quality Assessment (Youth PQA). Youth PQA is used to evaluate the quality of youth programs and assess the experience of youth in their program’s environment. We are able to use this tool due to the generosity of the Raikes Foundation.
Observing the TechStart class was, at times, intense. Everyone assessing the program has received Youth PQA training, yet when I sat in the classroom and watched so many young people run through the door, it was almost overwhelming. Taking notes on a lot of interaction going on at once was somewhat a challenge. I was glad to see how excited each student was to be in TechStart class. I was also impressed with how eager the students were to help each other, when working in groups or alone. As the students worked with the computer graphics editor GIMP, they learned how special effects were created. One-by-one they shared their findings with the entire class. What a great way to learn!
TAF’s goal for using the Youth PQA is to improve the TechStart program in ways we may not have thought about before. One of the areas of assessment is “Engagement,” or opportunities to set goals and make plans. While the TechStart students exercise many ways to approach a problem and are given instruction on how to navigate through a project, they do not necessarily have a part to play in the planning of each activity. Students are not asked their opinions in what the curriculum should be or how each class should go about taking on tasks. Thanks to Youth PQA we are now able to see the benefits of youth participating in the planning strategies for an activity.
TAF is constantly striving to increase the level of quality in programs provided to students. Youth PQA is just one of the many ways we evaluate TechStart and determine what changes are needed to advance the program. Our students deserve the best, and TAF will deliver.