Teacher Spotlight: Sara Speigel

We recently connected with Sara Spiegel, a teacher at James Madison High School in Brooklyn, to hear about her experience coordinating five Technovation teams last year.


Tell us about James Madison High School and your experience there as an educator. Why did you feel Technovation Challenge was a good fit for you, your students, and your school?

 James Madison High School is large public school located in the Midwood section of Brooklyn. I have been teaching at Madison for 11 years. I started off teaching math but now I teach computer science as well. I am also the coordinator for the Academy of Information Technology, a program within our school that gets curriculum and support from the National Academy Foundation. I first became excited to bring the Technovation program to Madison when I discussed it with a coworker at a meeting. My coworker, Michelle Turnbull, and I envisioned how we could break up the programming and the creative aspects between the two of us. At Madison, we have a computer science sequence and this program enhances it by bringing in mentors, having students work on teams and helping students to learn about entrepreneurship and how computer science can solve problems in all disciplines.

Tell us more about you. How did you recruit and manage 25 girls in your first time participating? How would you describe your role during the 12-week program?

I told girls in my math team and in the computer science classes about the challenge in November. Some students brought friends. By December, we started to meet to go through the tutorials. Once the competition began, Michelle led the girls through the lessons on Wednesdays. I worked on App Inventor with the students on Fridays. Also, I recruited college students to assist the teams.

Your school is in Brooklyn, in an area where most mentors would have to travel a bit from Manhattan or other areas in Brooklyn to get to you. You solved this problem by having virtual mentors. Can you tell us more about how you found the mentors and how the virtual mentoring occurred?

I found my first mentor through the Technovation website way before the program began. I tried to find local mentors by emailing my neighborhood mommy listerv. This led to a post in the neighborhood blog, where I got quite a few interested responses, and eventually one mentor. In the end, JuAnne, my first committed mentor, helped me find more mentors, who connected me with more mentors. We ended up with 6 professional women working with 5 teams. Students meet with their mentor virtually during our meeting time. Students scheduled the meets, and they occurred either on Wednesday or Fridays.

Tell us about how teams came up with ideas for your app. How did teams get everything done in 12 weeks? 

Michelle worked with the teams on generating a list of ideas and then the mentor helped narrow it down. Teams were very secretive, and did not reveal their ideas with each other. So much of it came together at the end.

What other activities such as field trips and other events did you participate in as part of Technovation?

Students had a tour of Google and then pitched their app to Product Managers.

What do you think students learn the most from completing the program?

Students learned what it takes to do something from conception to completion. They saw that a great idea is only a start.

Would you recommend Technovation to other educators and if so, what advice would you give them?

Technovation is a great program. If you plan on having more than one team, find one mentor, then use their network to find the rest. Not only did students who participated benefit from their relationship with their mentors, but so have all of my current students. Each mentor volunteered to talk to one class about their education/work history and their current job responsibilities. My students were in awe that they talked to women from ESPN, Google and University of Iowa.

Sara Spiegel is the Coordinator of the Academy of IT at James Madison High School in the Midwood section of Brooklyn, where she also teaches math and computer science.