Joseph George Middle School Competes in San Jose's Tech Challenge

San Jose Tech Challenge Spring is in the air as twenty Joseph George Middle School students leap off the bus outside SanDisk’s corporate offices, slinging bags over their shoulders and carrying boxes stuffed with foam and paper. They excitedly greet their volunteer “Citizen Teachers” at the door and head inside to their classroom, a large meeting room equipped with tables, chairs and plenty of room for designing and building. Their Citizen Schools Teaching Fellow calls “J!” and the students respond “G”, the initials of their school and a lyrical cue to turn their eyes to the front of the class.

“SanDisk has developed a wonderful partnership with Joseph George and their nearby community,” says Francis Jang, a four-time Citizen Teacher volunteer. “It is great to be a witness to such a great performance and to be a resource without taking away too much fun from them.”

Francis is one of eight SanDisk employees committed to the success of these students in the Tech Challenge, an annual competition held at the Tech Museum in downtown San Jose. Hundreds of Bay Area students are tackling this year’s challenge: design and build a glider that can navigate over a “mountain range” and around a “storm cell,” delivering a payload to a designated target.

This class is unique– it meets Tuesdays at SanDisk’s campus and Thursdays at their school instead of only once a week. At SanDisk, the students work with these professionals to design and build, while Thursdays are spent in the classroom experimenting with ideas and recording their process for their competition journals.

In addition to addressing the given challenge, the focus of the apprenticeship is to develop an understanding of innovation. During the ten weeks, students are constantly designing, testing, and adjusting their projects. The Tech Museum offers “Test Trials,” an afternoon during which they test their gliders and launchers and receive feedback from competition judges before the competition on April 23, 2016.

After a month of failure analysis and iteration, the students will then participate in a mini-WOW! competition at SanDisk in May.  There, students will launch their gliders on a mock course in front of an audience of SanDisk employees, answer questions, and take time to celebrate their semester’s work. “Nothing is more motivating than seeing them enthused, hard at work designing their prototypes, and learning about the new terminology while figuring out the best solutions to difficult aeronautic maneuvering problems,” says Francis. “I feel that regardless of the competition results, our kids will all be champs, leaving with a greater appreciation for the field and much knowledge.”

by: Andrea Morton