Another year of CreatingSTEAM has passed and it is with deep emotion that our team separates after almost three weeks of preparing, training, and then delivering an incredible ten-day program for students ages 13-18 years old. Students enter the first day confused, nervous, and unsure of what to expect. They exit energized, more mature, with new friendships, mentors, and empowered to continue learning. How can all this be possible in just 10 days, you might ask? In its third year of development and continuing to be shaped each year this immersive program challenges students to find their strengths and stretch outside their comfort zones. WCTD provides the optimal learning environment by giving students a space in which to learn and to experience what the real world of entrepreneurship feels like. Whether they will someday start their own business, or be a part of a team that does, this program takes them on a journey to see and feel what might be possible.
Many programs create separations in gender and in cultural backgrounds however, in the real world students will enter a workforce filled with diversity. WCTD believes that in order to change the gender and racial biases that exists we need to stop placing students in buckets of separation and teach them the value of diversity at any early age. Not only diversity in gender, culture, socioeconomic background, but diversity in thinking and learning styles as well. It is not an easy task, but unless we bring about change many students who can bring enormous value to the workforce will be left behind. The loss of intellectual potential is beyond our understanding today but will become apparent when these students enter the workforce and businesses pay the price in training their staff members to value the diversity they bring. We believe that investment needs to take place now, before the bias becomes so difficult it costs businesses 1000x the cost it would to invest while students are in middle school and high school.
Starting the first day with activities that engage the students to value each other's diversity is critical so we begin with teaching Mind Mapping. Mind mapping helps students demonstrate their creativity and get to know each other. They share their values, their goals for the program, and a bit about who they are and what they enjoy. Call it an icebreaker, maybe. We call it the key that starts the engine, moving students to work together.
We developed an algorithm to meld the students into diverse teams to ensure that we have a blend across age groups, gender, coding skill levels, school attended, and creative skills. Each team is tasked with developing a business that solves a social issue with global impact. They then must create a website, mobile app, develop a branding book, integrate a humanoid robot, and prepare a 15 minute presentation that includes a 1-2 minute marketing video that demonstrates their product or organization with a call to action. It is immersive and real world. Of course we teach them the skills necessary to accomplish the project requirements. They are mixed with students they have never met and must learn to understand the value that each member brings to the team and execute under time constraints.
Each day brings more team building to help create the bond they will need to execute a successful project. Students are introduced to Stanford Universities' Design Thinking model. They will leverage the model to brainstorm ideas and utilize mind mapping to expand on those ideas. They make connections to how their idea maps to the team's values. Supporting students in understanding the importance of values and how those values contribute to successful businesses, helping to shape the mission statement for their conceptual business idea.
For many students coding can be a scary thought and drive them away from ever discovering their potential. Creating an environment that allows for exploration and autonomy helps to shift their thinking and stretch beyond their experience to reach new goals. In this way students learn how to empower their own learning and what it means to be a lifelong learner. Our online student community provides a mechanism for students to not only stay engaged with the students they meet, but the speakers, mentors and to engage in future programs. Taking students from middle school to high school, to college and to career ensures they have the resources to support their learning and the community to develop a network for their future.
As students learn about design thinking they are introduced to the concept of ideation and how that plays into engineering of both software and hardware. Introducing students to robotics with our Trossen humanoid robots is always a big hit and provides the opportunity for students to learn skills in Linux operating system as well as command line coding. The best part for the students is learning problem solving skills through continuous failure. Working with something new creates a challenge and they must stretch to understand new concepts. They fail over and over again and again, with our support we help them see the value of failure. When they master for example getting the robot to stand on its own through programing the feeling of accomplishment helps to create the long term value we seek in shaping them to understand the value of failure.
Learning to collaborate, in diverse teams is critical and a necessary 21st century workforce skill. Our students gain self-awareness and the understanding of the value of having a diverse team and the impact that diverse thinking has on innovation and bringing a product to market. Learning to collaborate develops confidence and coopetition to support success in school, college and careers.
WCTD invested this year to build the capacity to teach students global collaboration skills through our International Code-a-thon. We partnered with Iluka Resources in Western Australia (WA) where a team of employees and industry volunteers delivered the program for students in WA. The success of that program lead Iluka to support a team of 5 to participate and learn from our CreatingSTEAM program in NYC in July, with an intent to establish WCTD programs in Australia and support STEAM education in Australia. This demonstrates that the WCTD program concept is transferable to other countries and can support a range of industry talent needs by driving more students towards STEAM careers.
The Community Ambassador Program (CAP) grows through mentor participation at CreatingSTEAM. Our organization is run by students for students, and that is demonstrated in the results we see from CreatingSTEAM each year. Watching the student ambassadors lead sessions, moderate career panels with industry experts, develop their leadership skills, and provide continuous feedback to make the program better is what makes the program such a success. The CAP students demonstrate the character, motivation, and willingness to learn that employers seek to find when recruiting. We could not be prouder of their dedication to the program and to their own professional development. These are the students that will shape our future and who are dedicated to creating positive change around the world. We look forward to continuing to build the CAP program and provide students the opportunity to teach, learn and develop leadership qualities around the world.
When you deliver a consistent process in teaching you see the key changing points that occur with the students each year. We know when the teams start to jell and flow in their work together when they begin to inspire each other and collaborate to see each other succeed, and the effort they put in outside of the program, in some cases late into the night. It is amazing to see and feel the energy that is created when you provide students the space to learn and to succeed through failure and success; it energizes everyone and creates the model and characteristics that employers seek to hire. Students come away with pride in their work and a true understanding of what the real world work environment could be like. They have a sense of how their role in contributing to a team and working hard together to solve problems that impacts humanity can change the future in positive ways.
The final projects the teams produce is emotional for the students, the parents who come to watch, the mentors who supported them throughout the program, and our entire team and volunteers who shape the program and ensure the students outcomes are positive. Students come away learning resource tools from Microsoft that are utilized in the workforce, coding and website design, the design thinking model, self-awareness and presentation skills and so much more. The outcomes create what is necessary to build the personal confidence to present in front of a live global audience. When the students depart they are just beginning their journey to be lifelong learners and have a greater understanding of the meaning of collaboration and the value of failure in learning to succeed.
You can see what our students think of We Connect The Dots by checking out a presentation put together by CreatingSTEAM student Adam Y. CLICK HERE
Stop by our Facebook page to see the stunning projects created by our student teams during their two weeks with us at the Microsoft office: https://www.facebook.com/weconnectthedots/videos
How You Can Help:
Help us to do more by donating to WCTD. In order to continue to offer these types of programs we need your support, help us to create positive change for everyone.
Here is how you can help us. There are plenty of opportunities to get involved:
- Help us secure sponsors for future programs: If your place of business, parent group, or organization is looking for outreach and community involvement, help us by securing sponsors for our Code-a-thon this January. Branding opportunities are available for sponsors, and is a great way to get exposure through philanthropy. Simply contact our program manager, Stephen Sobierajski at (631) 468-7475 Ext 0, to learn more about sponsorship and what it means to our students.
- Bring programming to your school district: We Connect The Dots can deliver high quality experiential education programs in your district, but we need your help to make the connection! Visit our site and fill out our program inquiry form to tell us how we can improve exposure to STEAM education for students in your district: Bring Programs to Your School.
- Volunteer: We need volunteers to make our programs possible, support our daily activities, and help us reach out to more students that need us. As a volunteer, you can help us make positive change in the future of education and secure opportunities for students all over the world. Becoming a volunteer is easy. Just click the following link and let us know how you would like to help: Volunteer for WCTD