There is no question that the words “summer vacation” conjure up all types of positive feelings for students and that their last day of class is among the most anticipated of the year. For a group of eight students that just wrapped up 8th grade and are on the cusp of entering high school, that anticipation came in the form of last week’s FirstHand Summer Intensive.
The Science Center’s STEM education program piloted the Summer Intensive in response to a growing chorus of students asking how they could continue working -- and learning- through FirstHand’s project-based curriculum.
Comprised entirely of self-selecting, soon-to-be 9th graders who applied to participate, the hands-on learning continued following the completion of several semester-long FirstHand programs that they participated in with classmates. What makes the Summer Intensive unique is that unlike the regular school year, students from four different schools participated in the program, giving them early exposure to the power of an expanded network and allowing them to keep in touch with their FirstHand mentors for future career guidance.
A typical 10-week period totaling 20 hours in the FirstHand lab was condensed into a week of 4-hour days, culminating in a showcase as the capstone project. To get the kids comfortable with being in the lab’s maker space and using different power tools, the program kicked off with the students constructing wooden speakers from scratch. This exercise also brought them up to speed on the necessary skills for the big assignment: redesigning the conventional (read: boring, old, uncomfortable) school desk.
The students also had a chance to meet FirstHand mentors with furniture design and entrepreneurship backgrounds, including Alex Roscoe from GrowFlux. He volunteered three hours of his time and extensive experience in the shop to assist the groups with the construction their projects, regardless of it being unrelated to his work as CTO at the growing, ic@3401-based horticultural lighting technology startup
Held on June 21st, the turnout for the showcase was beyond what FirstHand expected. Visitors from all over 3675 Market Street, the families of the students, and even a group of educators participating in the Tech and Learning Leadership Summit whose curiosity was piqued, flooded into the lab to “invest” at their discretion in each group’s design (the winner raised a cool $2,400). Some of the desks featured special compartments for smart phones and snacks, some had features that encouraged better concentration while studying, and others were decked out with pillows and fans. Each team was judged and awarded by a panel of experts on three categories: marketability, creativity and ergonomics.
In the end, the Summer Intensive brought out confidence in a group of kids feeling perhaps nervous about entering high school in the fall, by encouraging them to step outside of their comfort zone, meet new people and express their creativity.
“It made me so proud to see the students take risks and step out of their comfort zones. On the first day we had to beg students to talk at lunch time, but by Friday students who had just met on Monday were exchanging phone numbers and planning to hang out. I hope that this confidence translates into high school and that they’re now more comfortable making new friends and trying things that seem scary at first.”
As Program Facilitator, Melissa Kurman explains, “It made me so proud to see the students take risks and step out of their comfort zones. On the first day we had to beg students to talk at lunch time, but by Friday students who had just met on Monday were exchanging phone numbers and planning to hang out. I hope that this confidence translates into high school and that they’re now more comfortable making new friends and trying things that seem scary at first.”
When asked to reflect back on their experience, some of the students also felt newfound courage in “sharing without feeling scared” and “feeling brave because when it comes to big tools like that I would have never thought I would use them.” For Anthonette Akinyemi, the lesson learned goes even further: “[I learned] I could do whatever I put my mind to.”
“[I learned] I could do whatever I put my mind to.”
It’s programs like FirstHand and its inaugural Summer Intensive that remind us that tomorrow’s STEM workforce can be found right in our backyard when given an opportunity to learn. And as for those antiquated school desks, we may have just seen the prototype for the future right here at 3675 Market Street.
All FirstHand programming is free for students and schools.