Inspiration and Innovation in Local Community STEM Volunteering

It was the first week of December 2012. Dozens of students filed into the school’s little-used computer lab for the Hour of Code lesson I was leading as a volunteer. They pushed aside the desktop computer keyboards, pulled out their new school-issued laptops, and opened the lids. Wirelessly they loaded the Scratch website. And in five minutes they were ready for their first computer-programming lesson.

Moments of inspiration can lead to innovation, and this was one of those moments. I realized every student in the school now had a tool they could use to learn to program anywhere in the school building. They were no longer limited by access to a desktop or laptop computer or the installation of desktop software. Imagine what they could do with such a tool!

But Hour of Code at that time was a once-a-year activity. How could we create a sustained computer programming activity?

It took another moment of inspiration a month later before the idea crystalized. On a teleconference gathering of like-minded volunteers in IBM, a team from Dublin, Ireland, presented their work on teaching students to code. It was through an organization called CoderDojo, the free, open-source coding club.

CoderDojo was the last piece to the puzzle. With the combination of the school’s Chromebooks, Scratch, and CoderDojo, we could create an activity that was inexpensive, accessible to all students, and focused on coding.

This is just one example of the many amazing ideas that flow regularly from the minds of innovative IBMers who have a passion for K-12 education in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM). The ideas drove a project to collect innovative examples of local community STEM volunteerism.

We tapped into IBM’s On Demand Community, a collection of over 287,000 registered volunteers. These volunteers have collectively donated over 19 million hours since the program’s inception in 2003, to schools and not-for-profit organizations worldwide. On Demand Community builds on established IBM corporate citizenship programs such as DiscoverE, Teachers TryScience, and World Community Grid. The Points of Light Foundation has deemed On Demand Community “a program without peer” for its innovative, comprehensive approach to supporting volunteers. [1]

Within this community we found volunteers who have devoted significant time and skills to improving student access to STEM activities, not just through those existing IBM-established activities, but also through new STEM activities that they have invented. They have consulted with schools and established activities to meet local community needs. They have donated their time. And they have made these contributions because of a love of STEM, knowledge of what it takes to help students fall in love with STEM, and a vision of the future of technology thanks to their IBM jobs. Mostly, they have a deep desire to help the communities they live in.

This collection of ideas became an IBM Academy of Technology white paper – Local Community STEM Volunteer Innovation. We hope you find moments of inspiration reading this white paper that you can use to innovate in your own community.

Posted on behalf of Peter Gegen. These are the opinions of the author; all thoughts expressed are solely his own.
CoderDojo, Hour of Code, and Scratch are not affiliated with IBM. IBM employees have provided resources to CoderDojo as part of CoderDojo’s crowdsourced support.

[1] https://www-01.ibm.com/ibm/ondemandcommunity/downloads/ODCfactsheet-2017.pdf

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