1. We provide a rigorous science communication training to scientists and engineers, training them to explain the science behind their work directly to the public (or as one participant put it, explaining it to a fourth-grader). This is done by having the scientists and engineers design original, high-quality hands-on projects that they teach directly to students and parents in their local communities, providing widespread technical education.
2. The projects the scientists and engineers develop are all open-ended engineering design challenges. These challenges are designed to have “low walls and high ceilings”—to be easily accessible while also lending themselves to endless and increasingly complex iterations. The challenges are intended to help students develop their creativity, innovation, problem solving skills and persistence—skills of critical importance for the next generation of STEM innovators.
3. We train parents so that they are informed and connected to what their child is learning. The parents are able to continue providing similar learning experiences at home (well supported by resources). Following a similar train of thought, we also train partners like libraries, after-school organizations and teachers to use our challenges, taking care to connect school and out-of-school environments.
From Pre-K through 5th grade, we mainly focus on parents—as they spend so much time with their children compared to teachers. We host family science to involve parents with the learning process, engage them, and encourage them to continue to explore and build with their children at home. By middle school, we expand our focus to include teachers and afterschool program facilitators, engaging them and training them to use our online curriculum and technology tools in and out of classrooms. However, our main focus is on our mentors, and we emphasize the science communication training, in our four-stage model as laid out here, and in putting that model into practice. Technology can never be a substitute for in-person interaction, which is why we train our mentors so extensively, and work to make our virtual mentor feedback as personal, individualized and sustained as possible. As we scale, we understand technology’s role as one of support for people’s in-person interactions with one another, and have integrated it as one part of our model, bolstered by one-on-one virtual mentorship.