Engaging the Creative Possibilities of STEM to Catalyze Cultural Change:  

Boston’s Learn 2 Teach, Teach 2 Learn Program

South End Technology Center @ Tent City

359 Columbus Avenue Boston, MA  02116 § Michael King, Director  617.578.0597 mhking@mit.edu

Dr. Susan Klimczak, Education Organizer 617.817.2877 klimczaksusan@gmail.com

 

When people look at us, do you believe they see our knowledge, our accomplishments, our ambition?

All they see are the colors, nothing more, from the color of our hair to the skin that we wear.

So let’s show off!  For once let’s show them we too can create.

So let’s show off!  Let’s help them not to misconstrue but to see depth in the real you.

Break barriers, pave paths, you lead the way and you change the world!

Jammy Torres, youth teacher



In Boston, we have a city full of youth like Jammy who, given opportunities and resources, show their eagerness to imagine, innovate and bring new vitality to STEM (science, technology engineering and math) and their communities!  To support them, we need a {r}evolutionary new approach, a pathway from elementary school through college that allows them to “show off” and close the achievement gap.

 

What are youth up against? Most of our youth go to schools where there are low expectations for their success, and where they lack access to both intellectual and emotional support for STEM learning.  Their schools lack the latest tools and innovative educational approaches that go beyond the teaching of separate subject content, a method that has not worked for them.

 

What do our youth tell us works? Our youth thrive with the same cooperative creating/learning model pioneered in Silicon Valley to solve real problems.   To sustain interest and become resilient in STEM, they need “technologies of the heart”: opportunities for collaborative learning and creating, experiences which develop a foundational belief that they are deserving and smart, an appetite for high expectations, and a positive approach to risk-taking.  They themselves say their learning is magnified through community service as STEM Ambassadors teaching Boston children.

Learn 2 Teach, Teach 2 Learn makes a difference.  Since 2002, the Learn 2 Teach, Teach 2 Learn (L2TT2L) program has been working to create a critical mass of Boston youth creatively engaged in the latest STEAM (STEM + Arts) education who can help catalyze deep cultural change in their communities.  L2TT2L works effectively for over 600 Boston youth annually. It has also been nationally recognized as an “exemplar” STEM program by Change the Equation, a consortium of high tech corporation CEOs and their independent evaluators.

Pedagogy. L2TT2L’s approach combines historically successful community youth development practices with the learning theory of constructionism.  Crucially, our youth development practices engage youth to shape and lead the education program. The program redefines the term “teacher” for youth who often have mixed or negative feelings about their own teachers.

We introduce youth to the culture of making things, to being the makers of innovative ideas and inventions, because we know that they learn best as they design and build things.  We also know that for the most learning to take place, youth must be able to explain and document their work so that others can see how they made it and can replicate it, to get and give helpful feedback to move ideas and projects forward, and to see their failures as important learning opportunities.

Program Cycle.  Each year, 30-35 teenage youth have the opportunity to gain experience and reflect on their roles as learners, builders and teachers.  

 

Spring Learning takes place each Saturday from April through June at the MIT Media Lab, our long-time higher education partner, and the South End Technology Center.  Guided by staff and 5 former youth teachers now in college studying STEM, our youth teachers gain skills in five core modules: computer programming, physical programming, energy alternatives, digital design and fabrication, and graphic design.  Activities in each module allow the youth teachers to acquire particular skills and knowledge through designing and project-building in a way that uplifts individual expression.

During summer Creating youth teachers brainstorm projects that can use a combination of the core modules to solve problems significant to them and their communities. In groups of 3-4, they spend three weeks designing and building prototypes of solutions. They get real world engineering experience and have the opportunity to strengthen their skills in the modules. Projects are presented at our annual end-of-summer Project Exposition to the larger community, including community residents, parents, friends, foundation supporters, and university partners.

During summer Teaching, teams of 3-4 youth teachers offer free summer STEM camps to over 600 elementary and middle school youth at over 20 community organizations.  These housing developments, youth agencies, community centers and parks are located in Boston neighborhoods most in need of educational resources. Our youth teachers become ambassadors who spread their enthusiasm for technology, engineering and science.

In the fall, winter, and early spring some youth teachers continue on with our STEAM Club (STEM + Arts, Eek! (Electronics Explorers Klub), and our Fab Steward programs, receiving enrichment and offering After School Programming at some of our community organization partners.

Evaluation.  Program evaluation is ongoing.  Youth teachers, college mentors, and staff hold regular “circle up” sessions to consider teaching/learning issues which come up throughout the program. After each teaching session in the summer STEM camps, the youth teacher team and community organization staff review the session and make improvements.  Each year youth teachers and college mentors revise and complete an hour-long final reflection survey that helps our program get better.