Becoming a Citizen Teacher

Posted in community, technology at 11:49 pm by wingerz


Citizen Schools is a nonprofit middle school after-school program that was started in Boston 12 years ago. Since then it has grown to include 2,000 students and 24 campuses. The core of the program relies on Citizen Teachers: these are volunteers who come in to teach a class, which can be on just about anything: past classes have included finance, photography, oceanography, astronomy, and quilting. The class is taught in 10 once-a-week sessions that are structured to reach a “Wow!”: a tangible end goal that the students can be proud of assembling. All of this is fit into a structure that teaches students important life skills and values.

This semester Lee and I are teaching a class on computer programming. It’s based on an existing curriculum composed by Emmanuel Schanzer that teaches Scheme programming with the Wow! being a computer game. So far we’ve been very impressed by the support for volunteers: we’ve attended two hours of Citizen Schools training (where we learned about the philosophy behind Citizen Schools), two mornings of curriculum training with Emmanuel (to familiarize ourselves with the curriculum and to discuss teaching strategies), and a meeting with our CS campus director. We were assigned to a Team Leader, who is present in all of the classes to handle classroom discipline and help us with our weekly lesson plans.

Today we had our first interaction with students at the school. All of the Citizen Teachers got an opportunity to pitch their classes (called apprenticeships – there is a lot of CS vocabulary) to the students. We delivered our pitch to three different groups of students, getting a great response from each group. After all, who doesn’t like video games? Of course, we tried to highlight other aspects of our apprenticeship. We emphasized the development of problem solving skills by giving the students a situation puzzle. Overall it was successful except for the class where someone blurted out the answer about 30 seconds into the exercise. During the closing ceremonies, “Fred,” the character in our puzzle, was given one of two student shout-outs, much to our delight.

It was a lot of fun to be in the classroom again. The students are in for quite a surprise when they find out that most of the apprenticeship will be spent playing with parentheses, doing lots of math, and paying close attention to detail. Hopefully we can keep them entertained and teach them something while we’re at it. Class starts on February 26.


  1. ~wingerz » Slowly (but surely) getting to WOW said,

    March 12, 2007 at 11:23 pm

    […] I’ve always had a lot of respect for teachers, but the last three weeks have boosted that respect to stratospheric heights. We’ve done the first three lessons of our Citizen Schools Scheme curriculum, covering numbers, strings, graphics, and booleans. The students on the whole are very bright and eager to learn, but challenges are posed by the non-ideal classroom setup (it’s the school’s “library”/computer lab), frequently disruptive students (hitting each other and calling each other names), and a challenging curriculum full of abstract concepts. […]

  2. ~wingerz » Citizen Schools recap said,

    June 15, 2007 at 2:09 pm

    […] Becoming a Citizen Teacher Slowly (but surely) getting to WOW Citizen Schools, Week 4 Night before WOW Citizen Schools celebrations […]

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