Our approach is to use a three-pronged strategy of teaching cutting edge science, engineering, and technology through hands-on, interactive lessons, using powerful mentors and enlisting strong parental involvement. Since 2006, we have reached over 16,000 people.
Iridescent leverages two untapped resources, engineers and parents, to address the STEM achievement gap. Our engineers receive far more training – 32 classroom hours over 16 weeks – than do volunteers in other outreach programs. Iridescent provides multi-session courses to the same families year after year; this structure, in contrast to Family Science Nights and other one-off events, allows our engineers to form long-term mentoring relationships with students and their families. Iridescent empowers parents because, rather than having them be bystanders, we help them become successful participants, investors and leaders of the Family Science Program.
We also use distinctive approaches to make science uniquely exciting for students. Our courses feature cutting-edge technology in an engaging, applied story instead of focusing exclusively upon discrete, basic science concepts. For instance, families learn about magnetism and waves by understanding how these principles make an MRI machine work.
Our goal is to have long term impact. Features of our model that enable long term impact are:
- Engineer Training: We have developed a rigorous, 16-week training program for volunteer engineers that enables them to directly impact the STEM pipeline by serving as role models and providing meaningful science learning experiences to the public. The engineers develop their public speaking and leadership skills and a deeper understanding of their own field while communicating complex concepts to large, diverse audiences. The Family Science Courses also add deeper meaning to the engineers’ work through personal validation, connection and gratification from clarifying complex topics for the public. Thus engineers willingly volunteer significant amounts of time to the Family Science Courses (80-100 hours/four months). In addition, they become regular, long-term volunteers bringing valuable social capital to high-need areas.
- Family Science: Parents are required to come and participate in the experiments with their children. The goal is to educate and empower the parents so that they can better support and further their child’s education. Thus parents continue the learning that is initiated in the Family Science Courses by providing relevant books, directing their children to relevant science programs on television, taking their children to museums and science centers and by participating in additional science activities.
- Long-term school partners: We aim to partner with schools for five years at a time so that we can work with the same set of families year after year and ensure long-term impact on the participants. Thus we choose partner schools very carefully, screening for high-need and high commitment to the Family Science Courses.
Two recommendations from Urie Bronfenbrenner that we have particularly taken to heart are:
Reacquainting children with adults as participants in the world of work.
“One of the most significant effects of age-segregation in our society has been the isolation of children from the world of work. Whereas in the past children not only saw what their parents did for a living, but even shared substantially in the task, many children nowadays have only a vague notion of the nature of the parent’s job, and have little or no opportunity to observe the parent, or for that matter any other adult, when he is fully engaged in his work. Although there is no systematic research evidence on this subject, it appears likely that the absence of such exposure contributes significantly to the growing alienation among the children and youth that we have already described. Yet, as experience in other modern urban societies indicates, such isolation of children from adults in the world of work is not inevitable, since it maybe countered by creative social innovations. Perhaps the most pervasive of these is the Soviet pattern described in this volume, in which a place of work – such as a shop in a factory, an office, institute, or business enterprise – adopts a group of children as their “wards”. The children’s group is typically a school classroom, but also includes nurseries, hospital wards or any other setting in which children are dealt with collectively. The workers not only visit the children’s group wherever it may be but also invite the youngsters to the place of work in order to familiarize them with the nature of their activities and with themselves as people. The aim is not vocational education, but rather acquaintance with adults as participants in the work of the society.
Acting on this suggestion, Dr. David Goslin of Russell Sage Foundation persuaded one of America’s great newspapers, the Detroit Free Press to participate in an unusual experiment to the White House Conference on Children. When it was over, two groups of twelve-year old children, one from a slum area, the other predominantly middle class had spent six to seven hours a day for three days in virtually every department of the newspaper, not just observing, but actively participating in the department’s activities. There were boys and girls in the press room, the city room, the composing room, the advertising department, and the dispatch department. The employees of the Free Press entered into the experiment with serious misgiving. “This is a busy place; we have a newspaper to get out every day. What are those kids going to do, just sit around?” What actually happened is recorded in a documentary film (“A Place to Meet, A Way to Understand.” The National Audiovisual Center (GSA). Washington DC). The children were not bored; nor were the adults. And the paper did get out every day. Here are some spontaneous comments recorded in the film:
“ Adults should talk more with children and pay more attention to them instead of leaving them in the dark – because you can’t really get to know much about each other unless you talk.” – Gian, age 11
“ It’s sad to see her leaving. In three days she became part of the group up there.” – Tony, age 53
“This is a place to meet, a way to understand people.” – Megan, age 11
“It’s been fun, it really has…. I talked to him about having him out to our house to meet my sons and visit with us.” – Joe, age 36
“If every kid in Detroit and all around the United States got to do this – I don’t think there would be so many problems in the world.” – Collette, age 11″
The involvement of children in genuine responsibilities.
“If the child is to become a responsible person, he must not only be exposed to adults engaged in demanding tasks, but himself, from early on, begin to participate in such activities. In the perspective of cross-cultural research, one of the characteristics that emerges most saliently for our nation is what Nicholas Hobbs has called the “inutility of childhood” in American society. To quote again from the White House Report:
Our children are not entrusted with any real responsibilities in their family, neighborhood, or community. Little that they do really matters. When they do participate, it is in some inconsequential undertaking; that is, the ends and means have been determined by someone else, and their job is to fulfill an assignment involving little judgement, decision making, or risk. The latter remains within the purvey of supervising adults. Although this policy is deemed to serve the interest of the children themselves by protecting them from burdens beyond their years, there is reason to believe that it has been carried too far in contemporary American society and has contributed to the alienation and alleged incapacity of young people to deal constructively with personal and social problems. The evidence indicates that children acquire the capacity to cope with difficult situations when they have been given opportunity to take on consequential responsibilities in relation to others and are held accountable for them.”
Taken from the book Two worlds of childhood: U.S and U.S.S.R
To ensure longer-term support and impact, we offer four weeks of summer programming to all our Family Science Course participants. The summer programs are conducted at the Iridescent Science Studios in Los Angeles and New York City.
Appropriate Approach for Target Audience
In order to increase parent-involvement, Iridescent addresses three barriers: low education levels , language and logistical issues such as lack of time due to long working hours, multiple jobs or single parenthood . Iridescent overcomes parent’s low education levels by designing materials that enable them to develop their own skills while facilitating their child’s learning. The program design also encourages year after year participation, allowing the parents to grow their skills to match their child’s grade level. The language barrier is addressed by providing bilingual materials, on-site translators and by communicating with adults via bilingual children. Logistical issues such as lack of time are mitigated by providing meals so that adults can free up the required time from preparing dinner, involving all the children to remove child care costs and by holding courses at convenient times and in safe, familiar locations (i.e. school sites). The emphasis on cooperative learning is culturally attuned to Hispanic and African-American communities whose “collectivist” cultures can clash with the individualistic nature of most formal education. Collectivism focuses on “interdependent relations, social responsibility and the well-being of the group”. We build on the support of the family through an emphasis on cooperative learning and by inviting all (toddlers to grandparents) to participate in exploration.
Iridescent’s Technovation Challenge applies the Iridescent mission to the unique needs of high school girls. High-tech and entrepreneurial professionals and university engineering students are trained to mentor underserved and underrepresented youth, to nurture their interest in high-tech careers, and to guide them through hands-on, project-based curricula of applied computer science and entrepreneurial skills. In our 12-week “Technovation Challenge” program, high school girls learn mobile phone programming and entrepreneurial skills, create a working mobile app and business plan, and pitch their proposal to venture capitalists and industry executives. The most compelling and viable mobile apps are fully developed, marketed, and distributed on global app marketplaces. Moving forward, we propose to scale the existing Technovation Challenge program, increasing outreach and participation nationally in the US and globally in countries including Canada, Czech Republic, Brazil, and India. We propose to develop and expand our programs efficiently and sustainably through ongoing partnerships with tech companies, venture capital firms, educational organizations, software development firms, and other organizations to support our program. Iridescent is committed to creating a sustainable pipeline to reach underrepresented and underserved youth at early stages and propel them, through long-term, immersive contact and a variety of rich opportunities, towards not simply achieving STEM careers, but becoming the next generation of high-tech leaders.
Our goal is to reach underserved and underrepresented students, expose them to cutting-edge technology and entrepreneurial training, and have a long-term, meaningful impact on their lives.
- Coach Recruitment: We recruit individual high-school teachers to act as advocates by meeting related community and government organizations, school district representatives, etc. As we expand globally, we will continue to leverage the relationships we have developed to reach teachers.
- Mentor Recruitment/Training: We have developed successful partnerships with large tech companies and organizations such as Microsoft, Yahoo!, Google, Apple, Girls in Tech, Morgan Stanley, and NCWIT in order to identify and recruit professional mentors for our programs. We have developed a comprehensive online mentor training process to introduce them to the programming environment as well as mentorship and project management skills. We are committed to ensuring mentors find the experience valuable, and to developing long-term relationships with our mentors. In addition, we collaborate with the Computer Science departments of universities to recruit undergraduate and graduate students who assist with curriculum development and implementation.
- Student Recruitment: We recruit individual teachers to act as advocates and to identify and recruit students interested in technology. In addition, mentors visit the school and introduce themselves while sharing their experience with technology to assist with student recruiting. We also reach out to related community and government organizations, school district representatives, etc. We will continue to leverage the relationships we have developed to reach students as we expand the program.
- Professional Partnerships: Companies such as Google, Apple, and Microsoft have contributed to our program through technology, mentors, and donations. We will continue to develop these partnerships and form new ones to support our expansion.
- Software Development Partnerships: We are pursuing partnerships with educational software firms to complete the development of top mobile app prototypes created by our program participants. We will also invest in marketing these mobile apps to ensure successful proliferation. In addition to motivating and empowering our program participants, we believe that the mobile apps emerging from this partnership will have unique value as collaborative apps conceptualized and created by youth.In these partnerships, we will create internships for top high school program graduates at the software development firms, where they will oversee the fulfillment of the original concept vision while experiencing first-hand the professional development process. These partnerships will ensure an enriching, sustainable, steady cycle of software dissemination from our program, while providing uniquely valuable internship experiences.
- Pipeline Development: We are committed to continually developing our curricula to maximize effectiveness and ensure access for our students to the most cutting-edge technology. We are developing a suite of curricula to extend the reach of our program and the impact on program participants. The entire curriculum is available to registered students through an online course on Peer To Peer University (P2PU.org). We plan to develop our pipeline as follows:
- Propagate the Technovation Challenge 12-week program for high school girls.
- Create sustainable bridges within other Iridescent programs and between outside programs.
- Expand our family of programs nationally in a concerted, sustainable manner, beginning in Spring 2013.
- Pitch Night: Each team submits their pitch video, mobile app, and business plans online to a judging panel of venture capitalists and industry leaders. Regional winning teams will travel to the Technovation World Pitch Night event, where student teams will deliver their pitch to an audience and compete against all other regional winners. The community is invited to attend and support the students as they present their creations in a challenging, professional environment. The teams are competing for prizes including complete development of their applications. Additionally, all participants will benefit from the experience of presenting a pitch to industry professionals, answering questions, and showing off their ideas, talents, and new skills to a large audience. It is an incredibly empowering experience and one that is central to the long-term impact of our program. You can read reviews about Technovation in HuffPost, App Inventor Blog, and Forbes.