(Courtesy of Monica Awde)
By Meg O’Neil
This is the fourth in a series of articles that focus on the programs at the Newport Area Career & Technical Center at Rogers High School.
It's just before 1 p.m. on a recent Thursday afternoon, and Monica Awde is standing at her desk, which looks like a makeshift command center in the back of the classroom. Her students are slouched in their chairs, and the familiar click of a mouse is heard every few seconds. A Smart Board has replaced the traditional chalkboard at the head of the classroom. While this may look like an ordinary classroom at Rogers High School, it’s not. It’s the Academy of Information Technology, and its students are delving into computer sciences that are not usually taught at the high school level.
As part of the Newport Area Career & Technical Center, AOIT is the go-to class for students whose interests go beyond the rudimentary scope of a basic computer course.
At RHS, all ninth grade students are required to take a class called Essentials of Computer Technology. There, they learn the programs that will be used throughout high school and college: Microsoft Word, Excel, and PowerPoint. While they are taking that course, Awde promotes the higher-level AOIT program.
According to Awde, some 30 students are currently in the AOIT program.
From the start of the program in their sophomore year, AOIT students hit the ground running. With a solid knowledge of the usual Microsoft Office programs under their belts, they learn database programs, the history of the computer, and how to write HTML code to create their own websites. They also are required to produce a major report on an emerging piece of technology.
In the past few years, students have done reports on DVRs, or Digital Video Recorders, Amazon Kindles, Play Station 3, Xbox 360, and more. “Whatever piece of technology they think is cool … I encourage it,” said Awde.
Students then begin creating their own web pages. In order to do that, they need to learn how to write code. In computer science, code is essentially the language used to program computers. The process of writing source code requires a student to know how to input instructions into computers that then perform specific operations.
To see the types of websites that students in Awde’s classroom are creating, visit AOIT’s website at www.NewportAOIT.org. The website also features the numerous accolades the group has earned over the years. Five students in the past three years have competed at the state and national levels of SkillsUSA, the career and technical organization competition held annually.
Students then learn about computer hardware by taking apart a computer, down to the central processing unit, the device that executes all instructions from the software. Students then put the computer back together, and it has to still work.
“At that point, they’re learning more about what’s inside,” says Awde. “They’re learning what all the pieces are, where they go, their function, how to discharge static electricity so they work properly … they’re learning how to set up a brand new computer from scratch.”
Besides learning about computers, first-year AOIT students also learn about digital cameras, scanners, video cameras, and editing.
Students who come back for the second year of AOIT learn C++ programming, a language that is used in many operating systems.
Awde says that she often takes second-year AOIT students into her ninth grade computer essential class to recruit new students into the AOIT program. She said she overhears her students telling freshmen, “When you do this program, you feel smart.” She sees her students having what she calls the “Woo-hoo” moment, when they figure out the complicated computer language.
Because AOIT is a vocational tech program, one requirement is that students be able to earn a certification upon course completion. Second-year AOIT students can qualify for IC3 certification, or Internet and Computing Core Certification. In 2011, 100 percent of Awde’s second-year AOIT students went on to receive an IC3 certificate.
IC3 is a global certification program that recognizes an individual’s digital literacy skills. It is the first computer certification to be recognized by the National Skill Standards Board.
Any student who completes the AOIT program and chooses to attend Bristol Community College receives six college credits, saving $1380 in course costs.
As technology is evolving faster than ever before, Awde says that she constantly has to learn new things to teach her students.
“I learn something new every summer,” she says. “I have to know new software inside and out.” For instance, when exposing students to video game development, she’s been using a program called Torque Game Builder, but she will be moving to a Microsoft Program call XNA, a code which is used to create games for Xbox 360, the popular gaming device. The new program will allow students to test their programs using an Xbox controller.
“I have to learn it, so I can teach it to them,” she says. “I support them because by the time they get to this point, and they are doing independent study, it’s only fair that I know the program too.”
Once they get to the point of self-directed study in their senior year, Awde admits there is only so much she can do. “I facilitate in the last year. I can hook them up with mentors. If they need a book, I get it for them. If they need hardware, I try to get my hands on it for them … I’m sort of like a coach and a cheerleader,” she says. “They’re doing their own thing, and they blow my mind.”
For instance, one of her senior-year students is incorporating his Senior Project into the classroom by creating an iPhone app that will allow every Rogers student with an iPhone to have their individualized rotating schedule in the palm of their hand.
Another senior, Tiphanie Fuentes, is creating a website that would translate English to German. The project is incorporating her love of technology and language studies. To her, Awde’s class is much more than one period out of the day. “This class helped me discover things I really like and helped me find my passions,” she said.
Taking a look around the small class of AOIT students, Awde explained that the group is very tight-knit. “They spend years together, and they’re like-minded,” she said.
One of the secrets to the success of the program is that Awde allows her students to sample different facets of technology before they can decide what they want to specialize in.
“There are no two people who are interested in the same thing,” she explained. “I think that’s one of the strengths of this course – It’s way better to expose students to a ton of things and hear them say ‘oh, cool!’ and that’s what happens. It’s telling them to try this. Take a bite, and see if you like it.”
Looking over the list of accomplishments, student projects, and websites, Awde beams, saying, “It’s this kind of thing that makes my day, every day.”