What happens when you combine curriculum requirements, a mentoring relationship and a chance to apply what you’ve learned to real world needs? Magic.
Marcus Rakentine is a high school senior with a keen interest in programming…and baseball. A Gloucester High School student who attends the New Horizons Regional Education Center (The Governor’s School for Science and Technology), Marcus participates in the Scientific Programming Strand. One of Marcus’ requirements this year is to work on a project under the supervision of a mentor to gain valuable experience. When the school asked Daniel Holloway, Coordinator of Software Development at Gloucester County Public Schools, to be Marcus’ mentor, he readily accepted.
Marcus had no difficulty deciding on what type of project he would pursue. You see, Marcus loves baseball and, he reasoned, what better way would there be to complete his senior project than to do something on a subject he loves. So, he decided that he would create a baseball application (“app”), but he needed to increase his knowledge on JavaServer Faces (JSF), web applications, and databases.
Enter Apps4VA. During the senior project planning process, Mr. Holloway saw an email about the Apps4VA competitions. According to Holloway, “I thought, ‘This would be a great opportunity for Marcus to become familiar with the technology and tools we will be using for creating his baseball application.’” So, after some discussion, Marcus decided that rather than entering an idea for a theoretical app, he would build an actual working prototype. Since the Apps4VA competition required that submissions be based on the Virginia Department of Education’s (VDOE) VLDS data, Marcus decided to create a tool to help parents and school administrators analyze indicators of college and career readiness. He named his app Path to Success (P2S).
During the weeks that followed, under the guidance of Mr. Holloway, Marcus learned the skills he needed to create a working prototype. In so doing, he also gained the skills he would need to create his baseball application, but he also gained something else. In late February, Marcus and Mr. Holloway were thrilled to learn that, in fact, P2S won first prize in the Apps4VA High School Competition. It was a great experience for both of them. But, the Apps4VA experience won’t end there.
Marcus and Mr. Holloway agreed that P2S would be a great project for other students. So, Mr. Holloway will continue to use and expand the app with future students. You can see a video of P2S at https://dps.gc.k12.va.us:8443/Apps4VATutorial/. (Requires most recent Safari, Firefox, IE 9)
Apps4VA is about engaging and linking communities – data providers with data consumers, educators with technologists, “bureaucrats” with entrepreneurs. To date, many partnerships have been formed and these partnerships are responsible for the development of more than 50 apps based on VLDS data. Pretty amazing.
Clinton Sower, winner of the Apps4VA Open Competition, understands the needs and perspectives of all of these communities. Currently a data specialist for one of Virginia’s largest school divisions, Clinton has worn all these hats - data provider, data consumer, educator, technologist, entrepreneur and “bureaucrat.” His many roles and experiences surely aided the creation of an app that appeals to parents, educators and developers.
VDOEopensource.org provides access to school performance data released from the state in PDF and Excel exports. According to Sower, “the app streamlines the data distribution pipeline at no cost to the school system.” As a web-based application, VDOEopensource.org works on phones, tablets, PCs, Macs, Linux, and most platforms that can connect to the Internet. Sower describes it as "...more of a user-friendly interface to inspire the creation of even more apps."
Sower recalls a scenario from years past where education data was reported via an enormous ream of paper. “I remember getting our SOL data from the state … My sixth grade team literally received a ream of paper. Our assignment was to match areas of need indicated in the data with modifications to our teaching methods. It was a tall order that has never gone away.” Even though reports have become more manageable, there is still a challenge to connect historical data to current data and to translate that into improvement. The VLDS, says Sower, alleviates this problem by connecting the data from the bottom-up with good timing. It puts information in a pipeline that works so teachers can do something with it.
Sower was encouraged to participate in Apps4VA, even though his app may be most powerful in smaller school divisions. He plans to continue to build on VDOEOpenSource.org, which provides many lenses on the data. A next step will include adding data elements that tell a deeper story so that the focus will be on intervention and school collaboration. Sower believes that some may see education data as golden eggs – something to restrict for a select few and not to be shared, but Virginia is shattering these myths by opening the door to innovation and providing top-down data to school divisions. The VLDS is one tool to show citizens and educators that data is not scary, that technology can be safe, and that the information it reveals can be used to plan, to evaluate and to promote growth. Most importantly, its creation will generate even more innovation.
What is our favorite weekend pastime? Startup Weekend EDU!! We were in Charlottesville this past weekend to root on the teams as they competed to be named top education-focused business idea! Over the course of the weekend, we had a chance to watch the magic of ideas developing and evolving, teams coming together and seeing the amazing final presentations! We had a great time coaching the teams and witnessing the creative process first-hand.
In the end, three teams took the top slots: SpedPortal, a digital special education portfolio service won first place, followed by Tech Girls, a service that encourages girls to become involved in STEM programs. Third place winner, Eye Key, is a reading diagnostic service. We had a wonderful experience and were impressed by the teams' innovation and dedication to improving education. Interested in pics from the event? Visit Charlottesville Startup Weekend EDU or check out our tweets @apps4va.