TAF@Saghalie students learn coding, UX/UI, and build service apps with the help of Amazon

Every Friday morning since September, TAF@Saghalie high school math students have met with Amazon volunteers for the Teacher Scientist Partnership (TSP) Program to learn how to build apps. Started at TAF Academy in 2011, and revived last school year by Ian Freed, former Vice President of Devices at Amazon, the program teaches students the foundational principles of computer science. This school year, the program has become more robust, and by the end of Spring, students will have utilized their newfound skills in UX and UI research, testing, and coding, to demonstrate a functional app, among a new resume of skills.

The first semester of the TSP Program laid the groundwork,  students learned Python and Java coding languages. But then, the program took it a step further. With the help of Amazon experts representing various skill areas, students were introduced to aspects of user experience (UX) design including prototypes, wireframing, and user research.

Armed with skills to get started, the students are now in their second semester of the program and are turning what they’ve learned into a product. After an afternoon of mind mapping, the class narrowed thirty service app ideas down to two: one app to buy, sell or trade sneakers, and the other where high school students can post tutoring needs or services for their peers. The class has been split into teams of 2-4 students and each team has been tasked to create one of the final app ideas. Each team except for one. One ambitious spin-off team wants to build an app that can test, detect, and fix code issues within other apps. Essentially, they seek to automate the existing quality assurance (QA) job. It’s a challenge, and TAF’s TSP Program Manager Michelle Oliver is excited to see what comes out of it.

“We have volunteers that have real-world knowledge who can then pass that along to the students. And, we’ve also added UX. There are different kinds of students and not all of them are going to enjoy just computer science. Being able to mix in graphic design and art through UX – having both pieces – that in combination is pretty awesome.”

MICHELLE OLIVER, TSP PROGRAM MANAGER
TAF

Apps are on schedule to be completed in May, at which time students will give a final presentation pitch to a panel of Amazon volunteers. They will be ending the year with a portfolio that includes wireframing, prototypes, research elements, and a mock-up of a press release. More significantly, they will have taken something from idealization to implementation, interacted with industry professionals, and learned skills that can guide them into a career.

As a result of the TSP program, many Amazon volunteers paired up with students as project mentors during TAF’s most recent STEM Expo. In addition, the program has sparked a desire to make computer science available at TAF@Saghalie for all grade levels. In fact, with the help of Coding with Kids, the entire 6th-grade will participate in an 8 week-long Python course following spring break. This is just one of the steps TAF is taking to make computer science accessible to all. The desire is for all students to graduate high school with, at the least, basic computer programming skills – a skill that becomes more relevant every day.

Stay tuned for more TSP Program updates and final presentation details.

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