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Preparing high schoolers for a tech-driven future

MIT researchers joined Cambridge Rindge and Latin School students for a two-day event focused on future-ready skills.
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A Cambridge Rindge and Latin School student plays with App Inventor.
A Cambridge Rindge and Latin School student plays with App Inventor.
Photo: Bethany Versoy
Cambridge Rindge and Latin School student plays Shadowspect, a 3-D geometry puzzle game designed to assess learning.
Cambridge Rindge and Latin School student plays Shadowspect, a 3-D geometry puzzle game designed to assess learning.
Photo: Bethany Versoy
A Cambridge Rindge and Latin School student plays Shadowspect.
A Cambridge Rindge and Latin School student plays Shadowspect.
Photo: Bethany Versoy

In the advent of artificial intelligence, robots, and automation, today’s K-12 educators around the world are asking the question: “What skills do our students need to be ready for the future?”

The “Freshman Technology Experience” — a recent two-day event at Cambridge Rindge and Latin School (CRLS) in Cambridge, Massachusetts — brought MIT researchers into the classroom to explore just that. 

As their 10th grader schoolmates underwent Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System (MCAS) testing in late March, 9th grade students put technologies developed by MIT to the test, rotating through sessions playing Shadowspect, a 3-D geometry puzzle game designed to assess learning, and MIT App Inventor, an intuitive, visual programming environment that makes coding easy and fun.

Organized by instructional technologists at CRLS with MIT’s Office of Government and Community Relations, the event sought to inspire a diverse array of students to build future-ready skills by seeking educational opportunities in fields like computer science.

Assessing the skills that make us human — and ready for the future

As students down the hall worked through problems with multiple choice answers on the MCAS, the freshman class tried out a new means of assessing their math skills.

Using Chromebooks issued by CRLS (as part of an effort to close an equity gap between students), freshman students solved geometry puzzles in the colorful, dynamic, 3-D setting of Shadowspect, a game-based learning assessment tool. 

With Shadowspect, researchers in the MIT Playful Journey Lab have designed a game that’s not just educational and fun to play, but also one that provides students and teachers access to ongoing assessments that are deeper and more robust than your typical math problems. Shadowspect provides feedback on geometry skills, as well as spatial reasoning, persistence, and creativity. 

This multidimensional view of assessing learning is part of a growing field of study to better prepare students for a technology-rich future. Researchers hope to provide teachers and students with new models of assessment that can measure what really matters. 

“We wanted to design something that goes beyond assessing Common Core math standards, but also assesses skills that make us uniquely human — creativity, empathy, persistence,” said YJ Kim, a research scientist and executive director of the Playful Journey Lab at MIT. “These are the skills that will prepare young people for the future.” 

Building computational literacy in the classroom

Another way to prepare today’s students for a high-tech future is to embrace emerging types of literacy that older generations may not have needed, but are now a must.

Computational literacy has been a focus for CRLS, and the Freshman Technology Experience provided the perfect opportunity for hands-on sessions in computer science.

One week before the event, juniors and seniors from CRLS visited MIT’s Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory (CSAIL) for training on MIT App Inventor, a visual programming environment designed to empower people of all ages to build fully functional applications for smartphones and tablets. These upperclassmen students then served as near-peer mentors for freshman the following week. 

By bringing the immersive experience of MIT App Inventor to CRLS students, MIT researchers hope that this data-rich, student-centered pedagogical approach inspired some students to incorporate more computer science into their studies.

"The upperclassmen were very engaged and did a wonderful job, both in helping the freshmen with the technical tasks, as well as providing advice on potential experiences with computing at the high school”, says Josh Sheldon, associate director for the MIT App Inventor. “The excitement of students was remarkable as they realized how much agency they had in building apps quickly with MIT App Inventor."

Education that adapts and evolves

As technology continues to transform the workplace, there is a universal need for education to adapt and evolve. With research on learning assessment and efforts to build literacy in emerging fields like computer science, MIT is committed to working with schools to ensure that their students are future-ready. 

And with a strong commitment to technology programs at CRLS, students are already inspired. 

Jonathan Matsko, a senior at CRLS, has participated in these kinds of events throughout his high school experience. “I’ve always been interested in computer science, but this program has really helped,” he said.

Cambridge Public Schools Superintendent Kenneth Salim said the school system hopes that the new event “will demystify a field that has historically lacked diversity, for students who represent one of the most diverse high schools in Massachusetts.”

“Thanks to some innovative thinking by CRLS faculty and leading-edge contributions from MIT, this day should leave many students eager to learn more," he said.

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