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December 12, 2019 | By Angela De Luca
For every kid (or those veterans of childhood commonly referred to as “adults”) who has ever pondered the real-world applications, if any, of what they learned in class, our STEM education program FirstHand is leveraging its industry connections to narrow the gap between the theoretical and the practical.
Health Hackers, a ten-week pilot that began in September and will conclude next week with a showcase of fourteen 8th grade students’ final projects*, at its core is an introduction to mobile app design and physical computing. The challenge given to the Girard College students was to create an interactive tool to address the physical and mental health needs of their classmates.
In pursuit of that task, the Science Center, along with computer scientists from the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP), hopes to improve the students’ proficiency in platforms like Scratch and Makey Makey. But dig a little deeper and you’ll see that the goal goes beyond the hard skills, incorporating elements like empathy and active listening which they consider just as critical to a successful professional future.
Maya Heiland, Program Manager, FirstHand
Explains Maya Heiland, Program Manager for FirstHand: "The iSTEM team is as passionate about educating as we are but they also have the industry experience to share with students. At the end of one Health Hackers class, a student brought up how frustrating working in teams can be. iSTEM was able to bridge the school-work divide by sharing their own experiences in the workplace and offered some tips on how to work towards a successful project despite challenging team dynamics.”
Conversations about Health Hackers began when members of CHOP’s iSTEM team offered to lend their expertise in the development of a new curriculum. For its part, the iSTEM team was no stranger to partnering with FirstHand. CHOP, a supporter of the Science Center’s Ignite Innovation campaign to sustain FirstHand’s free project-based learning, wanted to give more than just dollars and cents.
Talks soon gave way to monthly meetings between the two teams; sharing ideas, finetuning the details of the lesson plans, and working thoughtfully through their implementation. Once completed, CHOP’s staff, encouraged by their organization to engage in more outreach, found in Health Hackers an additional opportunity for getting involved and mentoring.
And mentor they did. Normally, one could expect to contribute about 1.5 hours of their time over a twenty-hour course. CHOP employees participating in Health Hackers clocked in an impressive 40 hours of mentorship. This enabled them to build more meaningful connections with the kids, providing them with an increased sense of support and confidence in their learning abilities.
David Clayton, Director of FirstHand
"The internet of things connects countless household devices to the internet. Through Health Hackers, we’re not only teaching students about the bridge that connects physical computing with the internet of things, but the link between classroom lessons and real-world applications," says FirstHand Director David Clayton.
The saying “you can’t be it, if you can’t see it” lives in the consciousness and mission of FirstHand. With the inception of a more innovative curriculum complemented by situational challenges, we are giving students a glimpse into a 21st century workplace that is representative of the products and services being developed today.
With partnerships like Health Hackers along with our recently announced collaboration with Crown Castle, we are not just illuminating the path to “it,” but we are uncovering future aspirations they may not have previously known possible.
*Wanna see Girard College present their Health Hackers final projects? Head over to the FirstHand lab December 16th from 4:15 to 5:00 p.m. for their showcase.