Young Hacks Academy (YHA) looks beyond the constraints of the traditional classroom to offer students opportunities to develop technological literacy and leadership skills on a platform of collaboration, problem solving, and computational thinking. Students are tasked missions to design entertaining video games that educate their peers about local and global issues such as clean energy, vaccine delivery, or sustainable agriculture among others.
Preparing Students for the Elusive 21st Century Workforce
Today’s schools are faced with substantial challenges. The Common Core outlines new standards that are characterized by expectations for critical thinking and rigorous Math and Language Arts content. There is need to prepare students for a 21st century workforce that is changing so rapidly that it is hard to predict exactly what students will need to know to be career ready. Many of the jobs that we are preparing today’s middle school students for do not yet exist. However, there are specific skills that we are certain will be fundamental to the way professionals are expected to perform in the 21st century. When we help students hone the skills of systems thinking, problem solving, creative collaborating, and communicating clearly, we equip them with tools they can carry with them to their careers.
Mastering Standards in an Authentic Context
YHA aligns with many of the essential Common Core State Standards. Through authentic exploration of 21st century topics, students are engaging with Math, Language Arts, and Science standards in a fluid way that feels more relevant than facing 6 new lesson-sized chunks of standards each day. The following is a set of skills developed by using the programming language Scratch, and the corresponding Common Core Math standard in our Level 1 program:
- Identify apparent relationships between corresponding terms (CCSS.MATH.CONTENT.5.OA.B.3)
- Write, read, and evaluate expressions in which letters stand for numbers (CCSS.MATH.CONTENT.6.EE.A.2)
- Through experimentation, verify the properties of rotations, reflections, and translations (CCSS.MATH.CONTENT.8.G.A.1)
- Determine rates of change in functions (CCSS.MATH.CONTENT.8.F.B.4)
Learning to code is only a portion of what Young Hacks do. Through the activities of research, collaboration, design, testing, and presentation that are required of each participant, there is a long list of speaking and listening standards that the students need to master as well. While these skills are part of the Common Core State Standards, they are often overlooked because they are not directly assessed on state tests, yet are essential skills for most work environments. To name a few:
- Engage effectively in a range of collaborative discussions (one-on-one, in groups, and teacher-led) with diverse partners on grade-level topics, texts, and issues, building on others’ ideas and expressing their own clearly. (CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.SL.6.1)
- Interpret information presented in diverse media and formats (e.g., visually, quantitatively, orally) and explain how it contributes to a topic, text, or issue under study. (CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.SL.6.2)
- Present claims and findings, sequencing ideas logically and using pertinent descriptions, facts, and details to accentuate main ideas or themes; use appropriate eye contact, adequate volume, and clear pronunciation. (CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.SL.6.4)
YHA also helps students master the Next Generation Science Standards, especially those that call for exposure to Engineering practices. According to the NGSS website, middle school students should “learn to sharpen the focus of problems by precisely specifying criteria and constraints of successful solutions, taking into account not only what needs the problem is intended to meet, but also the larger context within which the problem is defined, including limits to possible solutions.” Through the process of researching a local or global issue, designing an education game using a coding language and testing that design, students naturally encounter constraints, troubleshoot solutions, and consider a larger context, thereby learning to “sharpen the focus of problems” (NGSS Appendix I – Engineering Design).
Designing Video Games To Save The World
Finally, YHA students will use all of these skills in the service of cultivating global awareness. Students will use their toolkit to research and explore solutions to problems that affect us globally and locally. It is essential that students feel their academic work is consequential and relevant to the world around them. Young Hacks Academy is a program in which students are motivated to solve problems that impact their communities. This program makes mastering standards relevant and exciting to students and educators alike.
If you are interested in bringing the Young Hacks Academy curriculum to your school, feel free to contact us for more information.
“My daughter had so much fun at YHA being creative and going on missions that she didn’t even realize how much she was learning.” – Jen V, South Burlington, VT