Finding Purpose

On the first day of class, I laid out our experiment. I talked to the students about how we were going to do something in the next six weeks that was going to be amazing. But that we had to do it together, as a team.

We first had to find a purpose worthy of the challenge.

I asked them to pull out their phones. Most of the kids had smartphones. Then I asked them if they might be interested in prototyping an app for that phone to solve a problem that was important to them and their schoolmates. They responded with a few unconvincing head-shakes.

I then asked if any of them knew anything about coding. No one raised their hand.

We talked about values and we talked about making the school a better place. I thought at that point we would brainstorm some ideas of possible apps they could create to benefit their community based on the values we had just discussed.


I made another attempt, trying to find a way to spark ideas.

Nothing. This was not going well.

I had never had this experience before – standing in front of thirty faces that just blankly stared at me. I had a feeling of complete irrelevance, like I was just wasting their time.

I had to find a way to crack through their indifference. I tried one last time.

These were kids. I knew that they were very passionate, but had learned to keep their feelings hidden from their peers and adults. So I asked them, “Here at school, what do you hate – you know, what really feels stupid?”

The dam broke. Oh, there were a lot of things that they thought were stupid, things they hated. But it quickly became clear there was one thing they all agreed upon: the binder.

“What’s a binder?” I asked. They explained that last year the principal started requiring them to carry around a binder containing sections for all of their classes. Here they would keep the learning targets and their assignments for those classes. These notebooks were big and clunky and didn’t fit easily into their backpacks.

The binders were stupid.

“Huh,” I responded. “Any way that you could keep that content in a mobile app so that you could have all of that information available on your phone?”

Their eyes lit up. We had our project.

Now it was time to organize into teams. Each team would be commissioned to pitch a prototype of their solution to the principal and superintendent within six weeks.

But first, we had to learn a little about coding – the underlying language of this new economy.

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