PDS 8th Graders Are Web Development Innovators

The Princeton Day School Eighth Grade Intro to Web Development class recently held their second annual Panther Innovations Consulting Project Showcase.

This signature Middle School course, taught by MS and US Computer Science teacher Toni Dunlap, offers a unique opportunity for students to explore website development skills and applications. The Project Showcase is the culmination of an intensive project in which teams of students work as website consultants, for a mock company called Panthers Innovations Consulting (PIC), Inc, to design a site for guest clients.

With adult PDS community members serving as team supervisors, each student member of this year's four teams took on specific roles and collaborated to develop client pitches, design logos, gain client/user feedback to fine tune their products. Then they applied their coding skills to implement client requests into a functional web page.

The student teams presented their final website projects to their colleagues as well as two independent judges with extensive professional experience in web marketing and web development. The two special guest judges, Hanna Bruno, Global Leader, Enterprise Marketing at Johnson & Johnson, and Susan Keeler, Product Strategy Director at Dow Jones & Co., volunteered their time to provide professional feedback to each group.

8th Grade computer science web page designed for Mofe

The first team of Addison Figel '25, Christopher Bai '25, Eric Xia '25 and Heidi Hudicka '25 created a website for up and coming musical artist (and sister of Fife '25) Mofe Akinyanmi. With guidance from team supervisor and PDS Chief Information Officer Jon Ostendorf, the team spent time learning about Mofe's music and her vision for a website to showcase her efforts. The final product included an "About Me" page sharing Mofe's story, active links to all of her social media platforms and an interactive app to listen to her songs. 

"I enjoyed seeing the final product after we spent so much time communicating. They really listened to what I liked and wanted and I love the website they created," Mofe commented.

8th grade computer science KWAM webpage screenshot

The second team consisted of student web developers Josh Patel '25, Nikita Malhotra '25 and Sophia Zhou '25. Their task was to develop a website for Kids With A Message (KWAM), which is a new non-profit organization founded by their client, CEO Emma Lewis (who also has the distinction of being Ms. Dunlap's mother!). With guidance from their supervisor Lisa Figel (parent of Addison), the team created efficiencies through many google forms that both provided information to visitors and brought in feedback from those interested in participating. Ms. Lewis remarked, "A lot of the concepts were ones I had never considered. I learned so much from the students during this process and their insights will be invaluable for me and KWAM moving forward."

8th grade computer science web page for PDS Admissions

The third team, consisting of Fife Akinyanmi '25, Adrien Cristian '25, Sohah Kulkarni '25, Claire Takeuchi '25, tackled the project of creating a website for the PDS Admission Office, represented by "clients" Linda Lippman, Assistant Director of Admission and Jeanne Crowell, Associate Director of Admission. With team supervisor Jennifer Mermans (Parent of Aerin Bruno '25), the team hammered out and adhered to a realistic timeline for their large project, starting as far back as April. They also accomplished their goal of building the foundation of the webpage using HTML and CSS with the plan of adding more interactive elements in the future. Another value-added highlight of their web content: authentic student testimonials from the team members. Ms. Mermans noted, "The team did a great job in taking on the challenge of working with an existing product and transforming it into something more unique using their own perspectives."

8th grade computer science COVID-19 webpage screenshot

The fourth team, consisting of Cameron Chin '25, Isaac Chen '25 and Mario Hays '25, worked hard to create a COVID-19 awareness site focusing primarily on Mercer County and the state of New Jersey. The project was designed for guest client Robert Orloski, Category Manager, Global Media at Johnson & Johnson.

With guidance on successful organization approaches from team supervisor and US Librarian Amy Matlack, the students implemented a number of tabs and sub-pages filled with visual information and external sources to provide visitors with a comprehensive, centralized set of resources on the virus and its impact on the local region. The site also incorporated a user feedback option to provide the developers with information on how to best update the site to optimize the user experience. Mr. Orloski shared, "It is so important to communicate truthful and transparent information about COVID-19 during difficult times like this. It was impressive that the team was able to pull together so much information in so little time and to present it in an effective way."

The Intro to Web Development course and its hands-on project components, combined with access to so much professional expertise, created a computer science learning experience that is all too rare for 8th graders in other schools. The course also paves the way for PDS students to continue developing their skills in their high school years, with an Upper School computer science curriculum that boasts an impressive number of course options.

"I am so proud of the work that all of the students put into this project. It was important for each of the teams to build functional and credible websites, and it was incredible to see how each team member contributed their own talents and unique perspectives to the projects. They all took great pride in their work and it was certainly reflected in the results," Ms. Dunlap reflected.

Images: Screenshots from each group's website presentation during the showcase

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