On Wednesday, April 26th, on the fifth floor of JUMP (Jack’s Urban Meeting Place), almost 140 students in third through sixth grade from Boise schools joined together for the first Boise District STEM Expo. This however, wasn’t your ordinary STEM event because all of the students and instructors in attendance came from five of Boise’s Title One Schools.
In order to be considered a Title One School, a certain percentage of the student body must come from low-income families. In these schools educators must work harder in order to help students close learning gaps and meet minimum academic standards. While the faculty strives to help all Title One students achieve academic excellence, each school has a population of children that are currently doing better than their peers scholastically. Many of these students need additional challenges in order to stay focused and not become bored with the standard curriculum. However, in some cases, Title One Schools lack the resources and time necessary to support these advanced learning opportunities.
In an effort to support these students as well as increase the amount of students in gifted programs coming from Title One schools, the Boise School District employs a Title One Enrichment Facilitator, Allison (Allie) Bigham. Allie designs curricula and works with students at Boise’s eight lowest income elementary schools providing them with enrichment groups and professional development for teachers. Back in December of 2016, Allie contacted the IVRC to find out about its virtual reality technology and how it might be used to enhance her enrichment programs. From this conversation the Boise District STEM Expo was born.
The Expo was designed to give the Title One students in attendance a chance to imagine, explore, experiment, and interact with technologies and people in a way they would seldom have at their own schools. JUMP helped sponsor the event and the IVRC along with the Boise School District worked together to arrange transportation, secure lunches and snacks, and to find community partners and volunteers willing to donate their time for a worthy cause. In addition to the IVRC, JUMP, and the Boise School District, Citizen Scientific Workshop, Tech Savvy, and Code Works Boise showed up to help.
All of the students participating in the event were nominated by their teachers because they demonstrated exemplary critical thinking skills and performed above their peers in reading and/or math. There ended up being a dozen stations at the Expo with various hands-on learning activities such as building bristlebots, computer assembly and deconstruction, and three virtual reality stations with HTC Vives. In addition to the various stations, there were Genius Hour presentations. The kids presenting have taken it upon themselves to produce some sort of original research or project. It is up to each student or team of students to design their project from scratch and make sure they carry it out to completion. Some of these projects can take as much as two years. The Genius Hour students at the Expo presented their projects to their peers, faculty, and volunteers who then provided them with feedback on how they can improve their presentations and test their hypotheses. It was incredible to see these children thinking on such a high level and willing to take on some very ambitious projects.
As things wound down, the kids helped clean up, grabbed their snacks, and a few had to be ushered away from the VR stations so they wouldn’t miss their buses. It appeared that they all had a good time, learned a lot, and were introduced to amazing technologies. All of those organizing the event from the Boise School Department and the IVRC hope that these kids walked away excited about technology, and eager to learn more in the future. Hopefully this event helps to encourage educators from all of the Title One Schools to take the initiative and bring Hour of Code and STEM events to their schools, as well as pursue technology grants to purchase IPads, VR units, and computers. It is events like these, and the sustainable programs that are sometimes a byproduct of them that really help give Title One students the chances they need to become successful in school and in life. At the end of the day, Ms. Bigham summed the event up the best: “Inquisitive children need to know the vast possibilities that are available in their communities. Exposing them to a premier venue, such as JUMP, and connecting them with professional entrepreneurs expanded their horizons. It was a special event that I hope is replicated in the future.”