STEM Expo: Not Your Typical Science Fair

If you’re a regular reader you know I’m a big fan of Angela Estrella and the community at Lynbrook High School. This afternoon I attended their annual STEM Expo, which Estrella describes as “a science fair on steroids,” and was blown away by the students and their projects.

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Pragna Upputri’s – The Application of Optical Lift on Micromotors

The STEM Expo is the school-level showcase event for students to practice their presentations before the Synopsis Regional Championship, which takes place on Wednesday, March 11th at the San Jose Convention Center. Lynbrook will have 90 students competing (full list here), 30 of which are members of the STEM Research class that was started 10 years ago by science teacher (and fellow Stanford alum), Amanda Alonzo. What began as an after school club with 6 students has grown into an award-winning program that introduces students to science, engineering and design thinking concepts. (Did you hear about the teenage girl, Eesha Khare, who invented a device that could charge your phone in 20 seconds? She’s one of Alonzo’s former students.)

Not So Weird Science

It is clear these kids are doing much more than tinkering in their science labs. One group conducted their research on gene synthesis at DNA 2.0 and many are coached by local experts and researchers from Stanford, Berkeley and Santa Clara University. The quality of the projects is so impressive that winners from the Santa Clara County regional competition bypass the state level and move directly on to Intel’s international competition, ISEF.

Having seen several startups and Stanford students try to hack the Kinect, I was impressed with Abhishek Johri’s Vision Kinection, which uses depth and RGB sensors to see how far an object is from a person without looking at the object. He described possible use cases for the visually impaired and the military.

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Johri, a senior at Lynbrook, explaining his Kinect-based project

She Blinded Me with Science

I immediately noticed the healthy balance between male and female participants. Though the initial group when she first started was all boys, Alonzo proudly shares that the number of female members over the years has grown steadily and this year there are slightly more girls than boys. “Girls have really excelled in this program since they seem less afraid to ask for help,” Alonzo adds.

The winner for me was Maitreyee Joshi, who is developing an automatic indoor mapping technique to create an indoor navigation system app for the blind and visually impaired. Joshi shared her passion for improving services for the disabled, which started back when she got involved in VIP soccer program that helps kids with physical and mental disabilities.

Developing an Automatic Indoor Mapping Technique to Create an Indoor Navigation System App for the Blind and Visually Impaired

Automatic Indoor Mapping Technique to Create an Indoor Navigation System App for the Visually Impaired

Through her research she learned that visually impaired people can take 30-40 tries orienting themselves to a physical space before being able to navigate comfortably. Her app creates a virtual simulation which dramatically improves that experience and cuts down on the time it takes to become familiar with a space. She has already collaborated with Google on how wifi strength fingerprinting and depth sensors can be used to automatically generate maps of indoor spaces and ideally create this simulation for any space in real time.

I wish I could have seen Ruchi Pandya, who developed a carbon nanofiber electrode based sensor for cardiac health monitoring, but was at another competition during the time of the Expo. Alonzo shares that the microchip she designed measures distinct protein composition and can detect one’s chance of having a heart attack.

Beyond the impressive ideas I was struck by the professional level of execution. If these children are the future, I am confident we are in good hands.

SparkTruck: Making Educators

The K12 Lab at Stanford’s d.school has designed a series of CreativityBoosters for Educators, to explore experiments in teaching & learning and building creative confidence. On Saturday in collaboration with MakerState, SparkTruck hosted a session on how to incorporate hands-on activities into lessons.

In true d.school fashion the brightly-colored post-its and creative juices were flowing. Inspired by the truck itself, the SparkTruck team created the session on a framework of IT BEEPS Identity, Teamwork, Brainstorming, Prototyping and Storytelling.

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They did a terrific job modeling how to conduct activities like this with students and emphasized the d.mindsets that fuel their work: radical collaboration, bias to action, building to think, show don’t tell and overcoming stuck points. We began with a group activity centered around a common problem that has been frustrating teachers since the beginning of time–

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Groups jumped into the brainstorming process, moving on to prototyping and then went around and shared what they had made. Then MakerState took over and set up several stations around the room where participants could practice different maker-focused activities, such as creating a pop-up book or a 7sec stop-motion animation.

What was most impressive is the diversity of educators and enthusiasts that attend these events. In my own work with TeacherSquare I know how difficult it can be for educators to take time out of their schedules for sessions like this, no matter how engaging or relevant they may be. It is clear that schools that create a community and incentives around these experiences reap the most benefits.  For example, a group of teachers and their principal made the trip down from Tiburon together, and I’m sure it helped that they were all being compensated for their time and participation. However, I doubt everyone in the room receives that type support from their schools.

I’m optimistic that collectively we can change the face of PD by creating more opportunities like this for educators to put themselves in the place of students in engaging experiences and be compensated for their time and energy.

Wan to see for yourself? The next sessions are on March 8th and April 12th- RSVP here.

LDT Expo: Keeps Getting Better

It’s been a while since I’ve posted anything as I’ve spent the past couple months enjoying time at home after the birth of my second daughter. However, I decided to venture out last week to check out the masters projects from this year’s Learning, Design and Technology (LDT) cohort. Every August Stanford hosts their LDT Expo and I’m increasingly impressed with the level of sophistication of the event as well as the ways in which the students approach their learning challenges and solutions. Last year I had the honor of attending as one of the reviewers so I had the chance to get a deeper look into many of the projects. This year I just saw the teams at expo and it was interesting to see that none of the teams chose to tackle a traditional K12 topic, but rather focused more on informal learning.

Kirti & DesignDuo

Kirti Patel sharing her project- DesignDuo

I was particularly motivated to attend to see DesignDuo, a DIY toolkit designed to get dads and daughters to build things together to drive engagement and interest in STEM, which was created by a friend of mine. You can read about all 12 of the projects in this nice overview piece from EdSurge. It was also great (for both the LDT Program and the Stanford School of Education) to see this press coverage (~2min video) from ABC Local News. I hope all these teams will continue this work in some way and am curious if any will launch this as a real product.

Envisioning the Future of Learning

School’s out for the Summer! I had the pleasure of advising a class in the Learning, Design and Technology (LDT) program through the School of Ed at Stanford this spring quarter, Ed 333B: Envisioning the Future of Learning. The course was co-taught by two of my favorite LDT Alumni, Dan Gilbert and Ami Mehta, who framed the class around two key questions “What should every 11-year-old girl in the world know?  How might we make that happen?” taking into consideration how technology will evolve over the next ten years.

To provide real world context for applying business, design and learning approaches to these questions, we conducted three 2-week long design challenges with real clients from Castilleja Girls School, Khan Academy and TeachAIDS. I was excited to bring some of my experiences from Khan Academy into this class, leading a challenge focused on rethinking how to distribute digital content to empower learners all over the world. The students came up with some creative yet practical approaches and I’m looking forward to piloting this project in partnership with Teach-A-Class and Living Values in Nigeria in the coming months. (Stay tuned for a future post on the launch of my next endeavor.)

The last class held this past Thursday night was a true culmination of the previous exercises exploring business, design and learning approaches, where the students lead the group in their own unique design challenges. What made the process even more special was the presence of some inspiring LDT alumni like Kim Jacobsen, co-founder of Junyo and local edtech community members, like Neeru Khosla, founder of CK12. However, the guests who really contributed the most were Shivali and Sahil, two Bay Area teenagers who not only provided useful perspective on teens going through the education system today but were energetic and vocal participants in the challenges.

I would love to see more classes like this in the School of Ed that are applying learning & design theories to real-world problems and engaging alumni and community members in the process. I’m glad I was able to be a part of this course and hope to stay connected to these students and projects in the future.

Making the Classroom of the Future

The Maker Movement is rocking the education world in a big way.

Kudos to EdSurge for organizing all the activities in the Education Pavilion during this year’s Maker Faire, modeling the classroom of the future. From Thursday’s educator meetup to Saturday’s ongoing interviews with Steve Hargadon, that team and extended community of volunteers really kept the Maker-Education conversation buzzing. The several hours I spent there this morning flew by and I have a feeling that even if I were there the whole weekend, I wouldn’t have had the chance to absorb all the amazing creativity, art and energy flowing in this community. While I spent most of my time in the DIY Learning: The New School area with usual edtech suspects like Motion MathRoot-1 & Educreations, I’m glad I got to catch a glimpse of some of my favorite new tinker toys in action, especially LittleBits and Roominate.

As amazing as this weekend was, the dream is to figure out how to truly make classrooms of the future that embody all the making, doing and learning that is at the essence of Maker Faire. Of course, for me the highlights were initiatives that are trying to bring these types of experiences to communities beyond our own.

SparkLab was there showing off their newly suped-up SparkTruck, channeling the energy from their Stanford d.school class and successful Kickstarter campaign. They are kicking off their summer road trip over the next few weeks, on a mission to spread “the fun of hands-on learning and encouraging kids to find their inner maker.”

Friend and current Harvard Ed Doctoral Fellow, Karl Wendt, was demonstrating some of his creations from his newly launched non-profit, Discover-Create-Advance (DCA), trying to bring project-based learning (PBL) to all students. They are “currently focused on building a library of highly motivating projects, providing alternative funding for great projects, and posting a series of videos that assist teachers and students in facilitating project based learning.” By empowering teachers, through instructional videos and funding, this effort gets at the core of what makes it so difficult to really bring PBL to every classroom. His video deconstructing a hair dryer is one of my favorites and I cannot wait to see what comes next from DCA.

Ideally, newly launched efforts like the Maker Education Initiative will help channel all the inspiring energy from Maker Faire and other DIY/PBL initiatives to bring these learning opportunities to kids all over the world. The classroom of the future will be whatever we as a society want… so we just have to Make It Happen!

Outrageous to Ambitious

I’m always so impressed by the quality of the fully student organized Stanford GSB Education Symposium and last night’s event was no exception. I was honored to co-lead a roundtable discussion on how to apply design thinking principles to help empower global learners, specifically around re-thinking distribution models for digital content.  This is directly related to the course I am contributing to through the Stanford Ed School this spring, Ed333B: Envisioning the Future of Learning, and it was so beneficial for me to practice some of my instructional approaches with this attentive and energetic audience.

The roundtables were followed by some additional networking and a lovely dinner. The highlight of the evening was the charming and inspiring keynote address from Don Shalvey, Founder of Aspire Public Schools who is currently Director of US Ed Programs for the Gates Foundation. As the godfather of the charter school movement, he shared some entertaining stories about his first time teaching kindergarten and how his teaching craft has evolved over time, with a focus on ‘doing the common thing uncommonly well.’ While I’m not particularly bullish on charter schools as the silver bullet for ed reform, what was most fascinating is his perspective on the ~20 year old charter school movement itself and his key message that what used to be seen as outrageous is now viewed as ambitious. What was previously dismissed as impossible is actually now attainable, once you apply enough energy and investment. While charters are still such a small percentage of schools (~5-7%) they play the important role as a testing ground for piloting programs and iterating before integrating broadly into traditional schools. The innovative and fast-paced culture of some charter schools allow them to experiment with tools and programs that larger, and often more bureaucratic districts, struggle with. The most inspiring part of his address was his call to action for everyone in the room to remember that ‘education is a broad field and there is room and need for talent from all types of backgrounds.’

In a space that is often dominated by negative rhetoric about how the system is failing and in crisis mode, Dean Steele’s opening remarks and Dr. Shalvey’s keynote were refreshingly optimistic and I hope everyone else left with the same reinvigorating feeling that I did!

Accelerating Diversity

Update (2/18/12)- You can find an extended version of this post on Women 2.0.

Demo Days can be pretty exhausting experiences of information overload as you try to capture the energy of the various pitches & teams (YC has 65 this round) while chatting with old and new connections. However, I was pleasantly surprised by the StartX event last night, which began with quick pitches from their 9 startups followed by dinner and plenty of time to speak with the teams and others in the room directly.

For me, the most impressive aspect of the event was the diversity in the room, from the teams to the investors to alumni. More than enough has been said about ethnic and gender diversity in Silicon Valley, and I don’t wish to add to any of the complaints. I’d much rather focus on the solution and I believe that StartX exemplifies some of the progress that we need by selecting, supporting and launching a diverse group of energetic and brilliant entrepreneurs. Almost 50% (4 of the 9 teams) had female co-founders, as well as representation from several degree programs (not just CS) and age groups. With a mission focused on developing founders through experiential education, I believe recruiting a diverse cohort deeply improves the StartX experience for all and hopefully inspires increasingly diverse applicants in the future. In furthering that inspiration, I spoke with several of the female entrepreneurs about presenting to and mentoring programs that help encourage young girls to explore STEM fields and opportunities, such as the Technovation Challenge.

For anyone trying something new it is vitally important and deeply motivating to see people like you creating opportunities and success for themselves. (This is definitely true for first-generation college bound students and I imagine it’s the same for first-time entrepreneurs –it helps if someone is blazing the trail with you.) I’m thrilled with the role StartX is playing and am anxious to see how they will scale this to other universities and communities in the years to come. Just Start It!

Connecting Stanford Community

I always enjoy going back to the Stanford School of Ed (SUSE) and this afternoon I found myself chatting with fellow alumni in the CERAS Lobby as part of our kick-off event for SUSE Alumni Community Connect. The goal of this initiative is to help build community among SUSE Alumni across the world, beginning with virtual connections in the Facebook group which we hope will foster offline interactions around the Bay Area and beyond. Tonight’s event was made more special by hearing directly from the new SUSE Dean, Claude Steele on his views of the current education environment and how SUSE can contribute to the modern ed reform movement. I look forward to seeing how this community grows and deepens over the coming months and years. If you’re a SUSE Alum, please join the FB group and the conversation.

Classroom Experiments in Entrepreneurship

Short and inspiring video from Tina Seelig, Executive Director of the Stanford Technology Ventures Program (STVP), sharing a story about her classroom project on entrepreneurship. Great lesson for all entrepreneurs to think about how you’re framing the problem/pain you’re trying to address and the resources you have available to help you achieve your goals. I especially like the point that seed money itself can be limiting and that people often undervalue their own skills.

Education 2.0 Roundtable: Redefining K-12 Education

Education 2.0 Roundtable: Redefining K-12 education in America, before it redefines us