Cover Letters, PBL and American Scientists

Today’s Contributor: Gwenneth Zucker

Gwenneth Zucker is a teacher at Gardner Betts Juvenile Detention Center and Phoenix Academy.

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Women’s History Month and incredible PBL training from Dillon Chevalier, Jack McGavick and Emily Smith prompted Phoenix Academy faculty (Palmer and Zucker) to attempt turn a simple research assignment honoring women into project based learning. I think we made a start.

At Phoenix Academy we have been piloting a Computer Science class for students spending 45 to 60 days in our facility.  Phoenix Academy provides a drug treatment program along with a scaled back version of public school, the 4 major content areas, an elective, and credit recovery.    A portion of our students are here by choice, but many are court ordered, or parent ordered.  They can leave, but there can be some pretty harsh legal consequences. As with a number of our satellite campuses, our students’ internet access is limited to a carefully vetted white list, so anytime we want our students to do some research we are pretty challenged, and often have to curate a number of resources beforehand.

We are largely using and code academy, (Dyson too, but that is another post) for our class.    However, for March, women’s month, we wanted to highlight women in computer science.  Our students are 100% male, but from the new cool generation, so they were happy to study women.  Our challenge was to make this common approach to heritage months (have students research the highlighted population) into an actual project with an authentic product.

To do that we decided to make our students headhunters and our women computer scientists potential hires for modern companies.  Students were told to analyze their chosen scientist, note the projects they had done, the skills they had exhibited and the particular personality traits that were reflected in their bios.  The goal was to create a cover letter for their chosen client targeting a position that they chose from current companies.

We ran into a few challenges due to our population’s, creativity and personal values.  First of all, they didn’t want to be salesman, and headhunters sounded too much like salesman, so we changed them into hiring managers at a company they were interested in working for, on a project they would be interested in.   It was just a few minutes before we had a hiring manager for the CIA, recruiting for Dark Web investigation, and one from IBM.  We would have like to have them search various job sites and do research into companies as well to find perfect jobs for their clients, but as it was a new project and we were learning, we let students, pick companies, and imagine specific positions.

Workshops included career and life motivational videos which we downloaded as our students don’t have access most of the web, but here they are for your students:

Keep creating your life     finding a career path that fits you

Things my father gave me  what do we want to be remembered for

Values Luke’s vs Darth’s   values in the recruitment process

Brainpop.  Ada Lovelace reference

Cover Letter Universiteit Utrecht

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We created a BLEND MODULE [see above] and put in pages of resources we wanted to make available to our students not only regarding the women scientists, but also information about cover letters and recruitment.  In the future we would want to provide pages of information for a number of companies and potential job positions.

One of the restrictions that we have at Phoenix Academy that many schools may not have is that students are not allowed on google.  Everything we want students to have access to, we have to personally read and vet, and many times copy onto BLEND pages.  This is one reason we didn’t get to students researching particular positions.

We modeled going through one of the potential clients, Ada Lovelace, pulling out pertinent information from her bios.  We even found a little video on Lovelace on Brainpop.

Once students had collected pertinent information we workshopped cover letters, again using videos.  I have to give a shout out to my computer science teacher partner Anton Palmer, who is the master of locating great videos.

Student Cover Letters were reviewed over several days until they were completed, using the iterative process and feedback loops.

Once students had written the cover letter for their chosen client, they had the option of writing a general cover letter of their own for internships.  The workshop for this step consisted of a page of resources on intern links.

We made up the project as we went, and can see how much better it can be now that we know where we are going and what we need to do to get there.  We needed to set higher standards for the letters, and could have done this by creating a model and dissecting the elements of that model letter to create a rubric.  Not wanting to do too much work for them by doing a sample of a computer scientist, we could have created a sample based on a historical figure from another discipline and identified a company that would be interested in hiring a person with the traits exhibited by the figure.


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