An Otherworldly Experience, And a Spectacular Failure

Picture this: It’s the not-too-distant future, and quantities of some of Earth’s rarest and most precious minerals are running out. We know that these minerals exist on certain asteroids and we’re ready to send un-manned spacecraft to check them out, but we’ll need to deploy fragile scientific measuring tools once we land on the asteroids to send data back to Earth. How would you deploy the measuring tools so that they reach their destinations without breaking? Photo by Alison Taggart Barone

Thanks to a partnership with EMC, RAFT and the San Jose Tech Museum, Citizen Schools’ students are cracking the case, and learning a whole lot about physics and engineering in the process.  Citizen Teacher Larry “Dr. B” Barone reported,

"The kids transformed themselves into master problem solvers, addressing challenges like my NASA colleagues -- only with more hands-on prototyping than math, more duct tape than circuit boards.  They kept journals, organized their teams, and innovatively repurposed everyday objects. You could see frequent eye popping moments of discovery each week as they brainstormed, built, and tested their ideas. The whole experience was magical as our kids learned from failure, embraced the chaos of innovation, and started their transformation into design thinkers."

Photo by Alison Taggart Barone

This is the second year that Citizen Schools participated in The Tech Challenge. In 2011, Keren Pavese, EMC’s Program Manager for their Western Division Office of Sustainability, Community Outreach and Diversity, and Jessica Graham, Citizen Schools’ then-Director of Civic Engagement, noticed that students like ours – from lower performing schools with limited science and technology resources – weren’t participating in the Tech Challenge described above, and were missing out on a great hands-on learning opportunity. But that changed when volunteers began teaching the Tech Challenge curriculum, giving our students the chance to apply what they were learning in class to a fun project that had relevancy in the real world.

Photo by Taggart Barone

Pavese, one of the first Citizen Teachers to teach the Tech Challenge, noted, “Throughout this apprenticeship, the students worked through success and failure, and leveraged team effort, determination, and creativity. It truly has been an honor to teach Citizen Schools students, to see their excitement for the Tech Challenge, and to witness a small idea grow into something much bigger. This year, we more than doubled the number of Citizen Schools students taking the apprenticeship!”

Said Barone, “With a few adults to join us next year, I’m sure we can get over a hundred Citizen School students to The Tech for the 2014 challenge – rumor has it that it will have to do with the wind.”

Regardless of the outcome of the Tech Challenge competition, one thing is clear – when scientists and engineers take the time to teach those topics to kids, everybody wins.