Relevance Amplifies Learning

Last year two grade 11 students, Josh & Brandon, started creating an app using iBeacon technology to help our teachers take attendance. A year later we still don’t have an app for our attendance, and yet this this was one of a number of very successful projects that happened last year. The project took on a life of its own, and only now do the students have time to think about the school attendance app.

The plan was that Josh was going to write the Android version of the app, and Brandon was going to write the IOS version of the app. This was the goal of their Independent Directed Study (IDS) that they were doing for credit at Inquiry Hub Secondary School in Coquitlam.

(The original idea shared by Josh and Brandon.)

However, the reason this attendance app is still not completed is because these boys entered a local ‘Pitch Your Idea‘ contest, and when they were rehearsing their pitch they were advised by the Tricelerate team running the contest that the application could be useful to businesses and not just a school.

(Josh and Brandon pitch their idea.)

The boys ended up winning this (promotional student-only) contest and along with the $500 prize, they also received in-kind advising. They also ended up with a mentor from Tricelerate, who was excited about the potential of their idea.

Their mentor connected them with a construction company, and then things got really interesting. Without doing a play-by-play, the boys went from creating an attendance app to creating a full ‘Workforce Management’ solution.


So, the school attendance app was put on hold!

In an Inquiry Hub slide presentation created for ISTE2016, a few of the slides presented by our Superintendent, Patricia Gartland, Associate Director of Instruction for Learning and Information Technologies, Stephen Whiffin, and I, were about this student project. The specific slide shared below listed some of the learning that went beyond the expectations of the IDS course the students were working on.


In addition to the very slick website they created, (without using Square Space or WordPress or other website creation tools), these students had to experience an incredible amount of learning that went far beyond learning to code the app.

This learning included: Creating a ‘Pitch’ (shared above); Sales Presentations (to business owners in our community); Project Planning; Product (and logo) Design; Creating a company (Parents on board of directors); Financing a company (including decisions about investors); Hiring (their first employee was hired in June); Client Relationship; Customer Service; Pricing (with considerable research); Location mapping; Building a server; Network architecture (to make the business scaleable across different companies); and Time Management (the boys put in about 25-40 hours a week into this project beyond their school work). They also had prototype testing which included putting their sensors on construction sites, having employees download their beta versions of their app, and working with the foreman to fine tune features.

Fortunately for the boys, the Inquiry Hub schedule does not put them in front of a teacher all day long and they could get some of this work done during the school day, because everything on the list above went beyond the original plan for their IDS course. Everything on the list above was relevant and needed to happen to get Josh and Brandon to the point where they could make this a viable business.

In January, I spoke to the boys and I added an additional IDS course to their programs. I did this because they were putting in a considerable amount of hours learning all the aspects of creating and running a technology-based business, and the relevant (real-life) learning was adding up to significantly more that was expected for one course. The app design went from attendance monitoring to a fully integrated app that would connect to payroll, and employee management and safety. The business acumen required to pull this off far exceeded what a usual entrepreneurship course would look like. And the just-in-time learning that had to happen made course planning almost impossible. In fact, I was learning as much as the boys as the project progressed.

From legal issues around starting a company as minors, to learning about pricing, conversations with these boys became lessons where I felt more like a student than a teacher. Instead of presenting just to me the boys were presenting to business owners and they were doing things like turning down funding/investors that other businesses could only wish they were getting.

When learning is relevant, criteria is far less important than when students are doing work to meet the needs of an assignment. I felt that my job was far less to teach, and far more to ‘stay out of the way’ of what was happening. That said, the boys had their parents and a mentor involved and I was not only getting updates, but connecting regularly with the boys to learn about their progress. Sometimes I offered suggestions around things like the website and other general advice that was usefull, and sometimes when I’d suggest something I would be told why my suggestion wouldn’t work, or that they’ve actually got a better way to do things, and it was me who was getting the lesson.

The current status of the project is that Josh and Brandon are actively searching for clients, and they have decided to create the school attendance app after all. In doing so, they will have a working proof of concept and if it works well, a glowing recommendation from the Vice Principal. But that’s not all they are doing, they even set up a booth at  BUILDEX Express, a one-day tradeshow and conference for the Construction, Property Management, Interior Design and Architecture industries.

I think this venture is going to be very successful in the future. But even if it were to end tomorrow, the learning that these students had to experience because it was relevant and time-sensitive to building their business has made this adventure a life-altering experience. One that has enriched their lives in a way far beyond what the original attendance app IDS could ever have achieved. Relevance truly amplifies learning!