By Katy Santa Maria
Families sat quietly in the cafeteria, awaiting instructions. They were unsure of what to expect. When Curiosity Machine Family Science sessions began at Los Angeles’ 10th and 20th Street Elementary Schools in the Spring, it was up to University of Southern California engineering students, along with parent leaders, to build the energy in the room.
Throughout the program’s duration, they wanted children and their families to be unafraid of engineering failures, because this would help build their persistence, curiosity, and self-confidence. It’s these kinds of skills—taught with expert engineering curricula—that Curiosity Machine has found to impact children’s chances of success in the 21st century workforce.
A Population in Greater Need
According to 2016 U.S. Census data, Hispanic individuals are 120 times more likely to live in poverty than non-Hispanic white individuals. Imagine how many young people are being affected by this in Los Angeles alone, where 4.9 million Hispanic individuals reside—the greatest of any county in the country.
Studies have shown the various negative effects of poverty, including poorer academic performance. In a 2010 nationwide study on student performance on standardized test scores, it was found that the two factors that determine the greatest differences in science scores are ethnicity and poverty level, with non-white and impoverished students receiving the lowest scores. In 10th Street Elementary, for example, where 98% of students are Hispanic and 98% come from low-income households, test scores rank lower than the average for California students.
Lower test scores—which is one among a multitude of stressors for lower-income children—lead to lessened likelihood to graduate high school and lift oneself out of poverty in adulthood.
The Future is Calling
Job fields that include science, math, engineering, or technology (STEM) are on the rise. While technical, cognitive skills are required for these positions, so are social and emotional skills. Employers increasingly care about hiring candidates with these “noncognitive” skills, which include persistence, resilience, and self-control. These can predict a child’s likelihood to graduate from high school and beyond.
But how can a child learn both the cognitive noncognitive skill mentioned above, especially if that child is underserved and vulnerable to poverty?
The Family Science Solution
Curiosity Machine found a solution. Through expert engineer-created design challenges, students must try, fail, persist, and try again. This process helps children feel more confident about themselves, because families discover that every failure is a chance to learn and to grow together
And for 10th and 20th Street Elementary Schools, family participation is all the more important. Latino parents have been found to participate less in traditional school activities (consider language barriers, unconventional work schedules, etc.), but when they do, it has been shown to positively affect a child’s performance in school and particularly, in math. Curiosity Machine’s Family Science is designed for parents and families to feel like active participants in their children’s success, so that they feel confident—not intimidated—by the skills their kids will need for tomorrow’s jobs.
Growing Success For Every Stakeholder
Corporations like Honda have helped make opportunities at Los Angeles’ 10th and 20th Street Elementary Schools possible. These schools’ implementations served over 100 parents and children over the course of five night sessions, with one engineering challenge tackled each session. Curiosity Machine conducted participant surveys before and after the sessions ran, which revealed impressive results of success across children and their stakeholders present—parents and the USC engineering student leaders.
More than 50% of parents said their children were more interested in science and engineering at the end of the program.
Some parents took the role of Parent Leaders to help facilitate the program among families, and 82% of these parents reported that they had a greater desire to learn leadership skills versus 3% at the start of the program. These parents also showed gains in an increased growth mindset and desire to pursue lifelong learning opportunities.
Mothers who participated in a parent pedagogy training learned how to ask open-ended questions to support student development of curiosity and creativity and how to support their children in utilizing the engineering design process to solve hard problems and persevere through failure.
Honda’s funding also supplied STEM Teacher training for USC engineering students, so they served as additional stakeholders for children’s success. It was found that through Curiosity Machine, these university students gained confidence in almost all categories analyzed, including public speaking and thinking creatively.
There’s also the impact on students themselves. At both sites, students demonstrated growth in planning and building over the course of completing five design challenges. By the end of the program, parents reported that their children had increased their creativity and curiosity after persisting and exploring through the program.
Limitless Potential For A New Frontier
Creating a community of stakeholders to fuel a child’s success—when uncontrollable factors often threaten to limit them—is a gracious effort from Honda, who shares Curiosity Machine’s life-changing vision.
In the final weeks of Family Science at 10th and 20th Street Elementary Schools, families entered the cafeterias confidently, no longer afraid to try engineering concepts that they didn’t understand. They returned each week with wider smiles, filling the room with an energy of limitless potential.
After more than a decade of bringing children, families, and engineers together to fuel children’s success, Curiosity Machine is excited to announce its new frontier—the AI Family Challenge. Beginning in the Spring, children ages 8 to 15 and their family members (in whatever way “family” is defined) may begin registering to this free program to learn Artificial Intelligence concepts and submit to a global competition. Curiosity Machine’s thinking is simple: Your child (and their success) is our future. So is AI. Find out more.