Teaching: There's an App for That

Otto Katt is a Second Year Teaching Fellow at the Irving Middle School in Roslindale, MA

At Citizen Schools there are some things we do really well, and one of those things is apprenticeships. Apprenticeships are 10 week classes where students learn from volunteer experts and then present what they have learned to an audience. Like the applications that make your smartphone - well smart, apprenticeships are what make learning dynamic and impactful. Phone apps and apprenticeships share more than a prefix, they are accessories that enhance and improve. Apps make your phone into more than a device that makes calls, they transform it into a device capable of a incredibly wide range of functions. Just like apprenticeships bring volunteers into the classroom to transform learning into an incredibly wide range of 21st century subjects.

Need to know when the bus is coming, there’s an app for that. Want to find amazing tacos, there’s an app for that. Have a predilection for creepy dolls, yes there is an app for that too. The variety and dimensions of phone apps is endless, as is the gamut of apprenticeships.

One reason apprenticeships are so special is because they not only impact the student, but also the volunteer, the teacher, families, schools, and communities. Apprenticeships, because of their vibrant nature, are a powerful way to make lasting impressions on multiple constituencies.

I’ve had the opportunity to support a variety of apprenticeships. One of the most successful experiences I had was with my database design apprenticeship. At the beginning I was nervous. I knew nothing about databases, let alone designing one. But, I was extremely fortunate to work with a volunteer who was not only passionate about her field, but also compassionate towards exposing students to opportunities and experiences they would otherwise never have. It was a struggle explaining to students cardinality versus optionality. I still don’t understand what entity relationships are. And don’t ask me why there is a crow’s foot on my database design.

What I do know, is that for 10 weeks my student learned and were exposed to material and opportunities the vast majority of their peers will never have known even existed. I saw how a local business was able to make connections with a community and its school. I heard from thrilled parents who shared that their child was so excited about the potential to work in field that will only continue to grow as technology progresses.

As an educator you are often limited to working in your subject area.  Apprenticeships allow you the opportunity to teach subject matter you may have no familiarity with. You are forced to collaborate and come up with ways to engage students.  Apprenticeships are a microcosm of what learning should be: exciting, hands-on, relevant, engaging, inclusive, etc. etc. I know that learning is a complicated process. What is simple, is learning that is diverse and exciting- is learning that will make a difference.

Otto is interested in crazy phone apps you’ve encountered, and ideas that would make great apprenticeships.