Moving a Summer Program to the Virtual World — While Closing the Digital Divide

Teaching is the artwork of creating college students to assume critically for themselves and to work with others to create options and advocate for his or her concepts. For these working in schooling, the COVID-19 pandemic has pressured us to rethink how we have interaction with younger individuals.

As the pandemic unfolded, our staff at SMASH, a nationwide summer time residential program for STEM schooling serving college students of shade, needed to transfer a longtime, 17-year program right into a digital studying atmosphere. This was new to us and, evidently, introduced a problem: We needed to evolve to remain true to our mission whereas, on the identical time, ship a program that labored for our learners.

Our expertise main as much as this summer time’s program (operating all through July) was each humbling and exhilarating. Along the way in which, we centered on 5 areas that we felt have been essential to serve our group of younger individuals:

Mitigate the Digital and Connectivity Divide

Access to computer systems and a reliable web connection is essential to delivering any type of on-line studying. This was significantly true of our program as our college students wanted to efficiently leverage the design, prototyping and augmented actuality software program we leverage in our STEM curriculum and be capable of join utilizing instruments equivalent to Zoom.

We additionally knew that not each learner in our group had the know-how sources to entry these alternatives. To counter these gaps, we supplied our college students with laptops and sizzling spots the place obligatory. For some college students, we additionally wanted to supply headsets to assist mitigate in-home distractions and enhance communication.

Build a Healthy Virtual Culture

Many excessive schoolers from underserved communities have by no means interacted in digital skilled or studying environments earlier than. Moreover, college students have completely different at-home settings, and never everyone seems to be snug sharing their non-public environments with their friends.

All of our college students are being educated on easy methods to work together in skilled studying environments. This contains fundamentals like expectations on muting and creating digital backgrounds, and finest practices on digital engagement. Discussions deal with offering constructive—moderately than essential—suggestions to friends and instructors, and implementing digital finest practices equivalent to establishing every day checks-ins, setting well-defined agendas earlier than every assembly, and clearly defining participation roles.

Create Real-World Context

As highschool college students start to additional develop their identification and voice, we needed to be intentional about making certain that they authentically join with the work to be carried out. In this vein, we deemed it important to remain rooted in an built-in project-based studying method that gives college students with the chance to deal with real-world issues related each to them and their communities.

STEM is related to a variety of fields—even past STEM professions. Ensuring our revised curriculum helps 15 12 months olds see how STEM is used to unravel real-world issues is essential to driving engagement on this new studying atmosphere. Certainly that is the case with the pandemic as information scientists, epidemiologists and engineers all got here collectively early on to assist perceive the affect of the illness and generate options to the healthcare disaster.

The curriculum additionally deeply integrates design pondering as a framework for fixing complicated issues, with a deal with empathy. Understanding a person’s wants and context with a purpose to develop options by way of an equitable lens is essential—and so is the power to adapt and regulate. Design pondering shouldn’t be a linear course of, moderately one which requires a number of iterations, a development mindset, and perseverance.

Offset Financial Gaps

This summer time, we’re offering our students with weekly stipends to assist them mitigate wages they may have earned in lieu of collaborating in our program, and to assist offset any family revenue challenges skilled because of the present financial downturn. While offering incentives to younger individuals to pursue their schooling has been met with controversy, the revenue inequalities confronted by our college students and their households are actual, and we felt it was essential to reward their dedication to schooling.

Foster Community and Competition

A way of group is important in any studying course of. And with college students having the ability to join with each other nearly with out being certain to geography, the staff sought alternatives to extend peer engagement and community constructing throughout the nation. Our college students’ initiatives will culminate in a nationwide pitch competitors that may allow cross-regional engagement and pleasant competitors—all with the objective of driving for excellence.

In preparation, college students are spending the summer time doing weekly mock displays, offering constructive suggestions to one another, and iterating their initiatives to include learnings. Students will pitch the options they prototyped to deal with the real-world downside of their option to a panel of judges. The competitors will showcase the scholars’ finest work to the nationwide SMASH group and mates of this system, permit them to obtain speedy suggestions and supply them with a possibility to win scholarship prizes.

As STEM educators, we consider within the energy of studying and iterating. These occasions have proven us the significance of not staying mounted in our concepts of what must be and, as an alternative, hunt down development alternatives when confronted with the sudden. With continued reflection and evidence-based analysis, we’re assured that we are going to be taught from the 5 focus areas and use the learnings to additional drive the affect of our programming.

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