Citizen Schools Apprenticeship Culminates in Robotics Competition

Citizen Schools Apprenticeship Culminates in Robotics Competition

A team of five intrepid students from Fischer Renaissance participated in a FIRST LEGO League (FLL) Qualifier tournament at Santa Clara High School November 11, 2018 as part of a Citizen School Apprenticeship.  Lead by by a team of mentors, and Americorps members James Wesselman (myself) and Jamila Mentuhotep (Citizen Schools Teaching Fellows), the team finished the fun filled day ranking 6th in the robot game outperforming experienced better funded teams.  

5 for Good: Man, machine bring imagination to life for Boston students

Watch the report BOSTON —A man and his machine are bringing imagination to life for lucky Boston middle schoolers.

Chris Haid is the COO of New Valence Robotics or NVBOTS.

His company, based in the Seaport District of Boston, offers 3-D printing solutions. He's offering a whole lot more than that to some Dorchester middle school students.

With Haid's help, sixth grader Eric Huyne has built things that until now he could only imagine.

"Hammers, houses, even Pacman."

That's a short list of items Eric has printed at McCormack Middle School.

Haid teaches a special 3D printing class at the school. He and some colleagues from MIT developed the first automated 3D printer. Haid donates his time, and through a crowdfunding effort, has donated a printer to the school because he believes deeply that technology should be accessible.

He said that "3D printers weren't sharable. They were hard to access, so we created the world's first automated 3D printer that can produce part after part after part continuously."

Haid comes to the school as part of an extended learning program called Citizen Schools, which helps kids develop key skills with a focus on technology, teamwork and leadership.

Whatever the kids think up, they can create. They sketch their ideas, build them on computers, and once they get the "go ahead" from Haid, printing begins.

Haid believes encouraging a new generation of creative minds can change the world. An inspiring message that's taking hold.

"When I grow up I want to be something like Chris who makes machines. So this is a good start for me," Eric says.

To that, Haid says "what can I say, the best part is just seeing that little spark light up in each of the student's eyes."

Very few schools have this kind of 3D printer in a classroom. NVBOTS also created a curriculum for teachers so the whole school can get involved, not just those in the Citizen Schools extended learning program.

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The Gift that Keeps Giving: Mentoring Students

Meera, a Senior Manager at Cognizant, has taken her knowledge of technology and used it in an innovative way that might surprise you-- inspiring students to love learning. As a mentor “Citizen Teacher” Meera opened the door to new skills and dreams for students who might not have otherwise had that experience. In the spirit of the season of giving, we want to take this time to recognize people like Meera, and partners like Cognizant, who give so much of their time, resources, and passion, to the mission of providing students with the skills, access, and beliefs they need to be successful.

5810880382_4f5db9a246Meera said, “I strongly believe that the best asset and power we can give to our kids is education. It’s very gratifying to teach something you know to kids, and inevitably you will always come out of the classroom learning something new as well.”

During one of her apprenticeship classes while teaching the students how to build and program robots, Meera opened up the world of engineering. Previously an unfamiliar career choice to the class, Meera recalled the incredible moment when a student told her that he wanted to go to college to pursue engineering. She said, “If we are able to open up the world and give students a peek into how exciting their futures can be, that is how I would define success.”

Helping students attain those moments of discovery and viewing service as part of success is what makes Meera and her fellow mentors such incredible leaders in the community. At Citizen Schools, we want to say a sincere thank you to our volunteers like Meera and encourage you to join them in connecting students to their dreams.

Building Relationships through Volunteering

Ranjani Ganeshmurthy is a two-time Citizen Teacher and volunteer intern with Citizen Schools. 

When my husband came home from work one day declaring that he had signed us up to volunteer with middle school students once a week, I was filled with apprehension and self-doubt. Having worked at an IT firm before, I was not convinced that I could manage a classroom full of students. So it was with quite a bit of persuasion on his side that I agreed to teach my first “apprenticeship” class  with my husband’s company Cognizant and the nonprofit organization Citizen Schools.

My stint at teaching ended up being a great lesson for me and my better half. By taking on the challenge of teaching a group of energetic middle schoolers how to build and program robots, I ended up learning just as much as them. Here are just a few of the lessons learned...


1. Be open. Sometimes we are so caught up in our ways that it takes something totally out-of-the-box to give us an awakening. Teaching this group of enthusiastic children was that moment for me. What had seemed a daunting task turned out to be fun the moment I entered the classroom. Meeting the students, who were very eager to learn, was a total boost to my confidence. There is something about being looked up to as a teacher, which breaks barriers and opens one’s mind to trying new things.

2. Engage. After our first class, it became clear that we had to do a lot more than just get concepts through to the kids. We needed to really engage them! In order for them to love what they were doing, we had to be engaged with the material as well. We not only taught from the lesson plans but brought in outside materials- like videos of active industrial robots to show the kids. Those videos came in handy when we explained why certain parts had to go in certain places of the robots. Going the extra mile made all of the difference. We didn’t realize it then, but by us being engaged and excited about the content, the students became engaged and excited too.

ranjani13. Synchronize and support. One of the reasons we agreed to volunteer was because it would be something that we could do together as a couple. We spent several weeks before the class started debating over the lessons and working on the robot. They were fun-filled evenings that strengthened our understanding of how the other works under stress and how much our patience could be stretched. We learned that supporting each other was fundamental to working better as a team in a professional setting.

4. Trust. One of the most important things we learned was to trust.We had to trust each other to put in the effort to make each lesson great for the students. Sometimes, he had to trust me to think of creative ways to engage the students and work on lessons while he was busy with work. Other times, I had to trust him and our fellow volunteer Citizen Teachers to facilitate the lessons, even when we weren't as prepared as we would have liked to be. As we learned to trust each other as teachers, we got much better in the classroom.

Even though I was apprehensive at first, I am proud to say that now I have taught  two apprenticeships with my husband and his colleagues from Cognizant. I learned so much from the experience-- like the impact that volunteering can have on children and adults alike.

You can be a part of this phenomenal change by signing up to teach an apprenticeship this fall. Whether you teach with your spouse, your friend, your colleague or even someone you don’t know, you will both grow from the experience.


What I Learned by Teaching Robotics

Jared Noll is a first year Teaching Fellow at Eagle Academy in Newark, New Jersey. I knew virtually nothing about robots when I was assigned to support a group of volunteers in leading a robotics class at Eagle Academy in Newark, New Jersey. I felt like I had little to offer the volunteers who were relying on me.  Needless to say, the first few weeks of the class were pretty stressful.

2012-12-12 04.38.00 (1)Luckily, the four volunteer Citizen Teachers from Cognizant were there to guide me through the material, just as I was there to guide them through being in front of the classroom. Every Wednesday after our class they stayed late to discuss the following week’s plans, and how to best lead the lesson. Even though I wasn't 100% clear on the material, I was confident that our lessons would go smoothly because we worked so well together.

After some time, I got into the swing of things. Robotics became easier to teach when I saw how much the students loved working with the Citizen Teachers and how well the Citizen Teachers knew the material. As soon as they walked in the door, the kids became more focused and willing to get to work. They were excited to learn about engineering and programming. I fed off of their enthusiasm.

The real fun began when the students started actually building the robots. They were broken up into groups, and each was assigned a role to perform to keep everyone on task and working. While most of the kids loved the apprenticeship class, there were some students who were less than thrilled with their roles.

2012-12-12 05.17.18One student, Wilkins, refused to work with his fellow students on the robot, and spent a few classes moping and unwilling to contribute. When I talked to him about it, he simply told me that building a robot was boring, and that he wanted to be moved to another apprenticeship. After some coaxing, he agreed to work with a different group on their robot. By the end of the semester, he was begging me to let him sign up for Robotics again in the spring.

To see a student change so much in just a few weeks and to show so much pride in his work is a tremendous feeling. Teaching an apprenticeship certainly isn’t easy, but like most everything else in life, hard work pays off. The Citizen Teachers I got to work with taught me a great deal about the subject matter, and in turn I was able to help show them how to manage a classroom. It showed me the real impact that Citizen Schools has on kids by connecting young educators with professionals from the community to teach students incredible topics-- like robotics. I learned that the volunteers and the Citizen Schools Teaching Fellows have much to offer each other, and that when everyone is in sync-- the students  will be inspired.

You can join the movement to inspire kids too. Even if you've never taught before, your Teaching Fellow partner will be there to show you the ropes. You'll both learn something together. Sign up today.