MobileMakersEdu Teacher Spotlight:
Derek Fitzer of Ohio's South-Western Career Academy
Derek Fitzer has taught Interactive Media for 24 years, mainly as part of CTE—primarily 3D Modeling, Web, and Audio Production. Three years ago, Fitzer was offered the opportunity to start a Mobile App Development program as part of a grant from Columbus State Community College. The grant’s goal was to build student exposure and talent in mobile app development, a growing field in the Columbus area, and identified as a high-growth employment opportunity.
MobileMakersEdu—Launching a Mobile App Coding Curriculum
Together with South-Western Career Academy (SWCA), Fitzer chose MobileMakersEdu as the anchor curriculum for the program. The benefit, they realized, was in how students learn to build mobile apps through the intuitive Swift programming language for iOS. Also, the curriculum is grounded in tools and methods used by professional software developers. No simulation here!
Fitzer said, "Frankly, I was scared to death, because I had not coded in the past, like what’s taught in a computer science program. Fortunately for me, the teacher training offered as part of the program was robust, experiential, and cohort-based with the goal of me feeling empowered with the same tools and mindset I was bringing to my students. So I jumped in, and it was the best decision I've made in my teaching career. I love it."
"[MobileMakersEdu] was the best decision I've made in my teaching career.
~ Derek Fitzer, Teacher, South-Western Career Academy
The Teacher PD Made the Difference
Fitzer continued, "It's been a total game changer. For my class, I recruit students who want to code and have a connection to the design and user interface component of mobile app development that Swift enables.
Having been in education and CTE for awhile, I’ve gone through a lot of different teacher training and professional development, and the quality of that varies and often it’s not the most effective in really influencing what you do in the classroom. With MobileMakersEdu (MME), it’s a completely different game. This is effective teacher professional development that gets you on board with it from the very beginning due to the support from the (MME) team at Uncharted Learning. The training leaders include experienced educators and also professional mobile app developers."
Professional Development for Both Skills and Mindset
He continued, "The training really gave me the confidence to get things rolling in my classroom. As a teacher, I can teach about anything if I have the background information, but it's the nuance in how you deliver and how you motivate and connect with kids. Bob Brown, (a Master MME teacher from John Hersey High School in Illinois), and the rest of the crew completely helped with that. That was huge.
There’s ongoing support and training, and there's an active PLC culture in our Slack channel, and also, a new Bublup channel that is accessed by both teachers and students. I feel incredibly fortunate to have been given the opportunity to reinvent how I teach.
"At the summer training boot camp for teachers, we worked through the content, and they helped us learn and solve the problems, but they also taught the mindset that goes with it. There’s this concept of ‘expose your ignorance’—it's something we talk about on a daily basis in my classroom. And I demonstrate that actively for my students. It’s a learning tool that helps students get in touch with what they don’t know, and not feel ashamed of it, instead call it out, and work toward a solution. This is where learning becomes powerful through problem-solving; it really requires patience, and also the skill of breaking down your problem into the smallest steps possible."
The Impact of Coding Courses for High School Students
Fitzer said, "It's not really a surprise, but my kids are wicked-smart. I was a little intimidated at first knowing there would be kids who would ‘get it’ ten times faster than I would. Those kids became my biggest allies for troubleshooting code. The magic comes from creatively figuring out how to bridge the gap between your toolkit and where you want to go with your project.
That's how I really get them to flex their muscles and also maintain that environment in the classroom, that is—we all support each other. If you approach it the right way and nurture the relationships, it's the best relationship and dynamic in the classroom, ever."
More Skills Through Coding
Fitzer shared, "We're all about communication. We do a lot of team building. The way I embrace that is by making sure students really feel safe and comfortable in the environment. I think the best way I can evaluate what a student has done is to hear them talk about it. That's really big.
We do a lot of podcasting and we do a lot of code review. We shoot video, a lot of things based around communication. It's really a myth that coding and app development are soloist activities. Software development in the workforce is often team-based and we embrace that approach."
Collaboration & Connection
Fitzer shared how his students receive and react to feedback, stating, "That’s another great thing about this program ... students enrolled in MobileMakersEdu can connect with developers (who serve as mentors) and other professionals in virtual groups or 1:1 meetings via Slack or Google Meet to gain feedback on their latest projects. This is a great experience for the kids not only to help develop skills around setting up meetings, taking feedback from professionals, etc., but also making these connections for post-high school opportunities."
He concluded, "Because the need is everywhere [for communication and collaboration alike]—these are skills that go way beyond computer science and coding. These are skills they will use on any job in the future. The ‘problem solving’ mindset in particular—if they never write a line of code after they get out of here, the problem-solving mindset will help them in every part of their life."
SWCA Students Put Skills into Action for the Win!
Each year, MobileMakersEdu hosts a Winter Contest encouraging students from across the globe to take a deeper dive into the power of the iOS Swift coding language. Students are asked to explore independently all the tools and resources available to professional iOS software developers, and professional iOS developers serve as judges. It's our belief that challenges like this help drive student agency and crucial skill development like problem solving, algorithmic thinking, and communication.
Fitzer's student team of Preston Harold and Gage Beatty won first place in this year's Winter Contest with their entry of How To Make A Circle In Swift5 (CAShapeLayer). Here's what their proud teacher, Derek, had to say of the experience and bringing the first-place win home to SWCA.
"They are phenomenal students. Both are seniors, wicked smart, fun to work with, and very creative. Preston is a great coder, he gets it, and he just completely digs in. But he's also really passionate about video editing his creative work. He scripts all his videos and has his own YouTube content that's really active. So he's really thinking that he wants to leverage his coding knowledge to be more in the communication or the design side of app building and have that strong ability to communicate with a team of coders, which I think is fantastic.
Gage is a bit quieter, but he is one of my students that I keep engaged with some really pretty high-end work, and for that, MobileMakersEdu curriculum is fantastic. There's always an opportunity to stretch with this curriculum. Once he initiates a project, he's incredible. He's super smart, and an awesome student to work with.
In general, this curriculum is excellent in that it’s student-driven so students are challenged to learn and progress using tools of real-world developers. And, all the while building both hard skills that are current and relevant, and human skills that are in such demand today. "
Uncharted Learning offers comprehensive teacher professional development to support the implementation of all our curricular programs. We also offer a professional learning workshop series where teachers learn how to integrate real-world entrepreneurship tools and strategies (like problem-solving and communication) into existing CTE curriculum. Learn more about that here.