LiA Showcase: Building a Better Future

You always hear the LiA projects change you, but truly, the only time you realise this is when you’re at the end. This summer, I had the honour of working alongside the Timothy Smith Network and my scholars. I say scholars, but after this, I would extend this even further to say my great friends.
LiA Showcase: Building a Better Future
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Mission & Motivation

Before arriving in the US, I felt a nervous excitement. I have never travelled outside Europe before, and I was going across the Atlantic for six weeks to make an impact on lives. When I landed in Boston, MA it felt different.

I saw potential all around me. Yes, parts of the US are extremely deprived and underfunded, but to me it was potential. The different people meant that it put me in an ever-changing situation. The different cultures meant I would be able to experience new food, new structures and support systems. The different environment meant that I would be enriching myself, with this unknown but exciting opportunity. In the famous words of John Gates,

“Seeing the world is a prerequisite to understanding one’s place in it.”

TSN’s mission is to bridge the digital divide. They empower organisations and individuals to access and use cutting-edge technology in the exploding tech world. As a non-profit, they create opportunities for people of all ages to access tech and tech education with the goal of preparing them for higher education and futures in today’s tech-driven workforce.

TSN's Executive Director & President, Milton Irving

Our project was called Tech Your Fitness. It was a six week project that focused on the applications of fitness technology and required high school students to make wearable devices that would ‘solve’ a fitness problem in the world. Most students never had programmed in their life. They didn't even know what coding, electronics or 3D modelling involved. This wasn’t going to be easy, especially as it was an intensive course. We had to design and structure our lessons so delicately to ensure that the pace and timing were correct along with ensuring it was relevant. We were fortunate that our small team (Tue, Victor and Myself), are specialising in these respective disciplines. In my lessons, I made sure that not only did it have a technological focus but a scope on building soft skills, and awareness. Something crucial in today’s age. I remember telling my students,

“Having the technical knowledge is great, but you need the soft skills to reinforce it. If you can’t communicate your ideas, how will others understand them?”

Towards the end, they saw the importance of this when they had to present their ideas. I didn’t just want to teach a course for six weeks, I wanted to inspire and give our generation skills they can take away and use for the rest of their life.

Teaching & Project Showcase

It came to my main teaching week, and I was tasked with teaching the first technical part to the programming and electronics. I taught the micro::bit and MakeCode. This became a real eye-opener. I learnt that planning and execution are two completely different things. I planned for hours, had my lessons peer reviewed but when in practice, it didn’t always go to plan.

Taken from my presentation

It is very easy when you study a topic to use terminology that some may not understand. A couple days into my teaching week and some students were struggling. The technical content was pretty heavy, the concepts weren’t the easiest and some lacked the confidence to say when they struggled. It became hard for them. As a teacher, you almost adopt this sixth sense that alerts you if someone is struggling before they even tell or show you.

Once we identified this, we swiftly reacted by bringing in more basic concepts, group work and just covering some of the fundamentals again. This worked very well. I adopted this method of breaking down the class into two/three groups - almost like micro-managing. The idea would be that there was an instructor with each group, and students could learn from each other and form a closer bond. I would walk through a main example/concept, but when they were given a task, we would utilise these groups. Once the time is up, we would all come back together and discuss our work. Students really enjoyed this - especially learning from their peers and giving feedback. Through the following weeks, it was just building upon their knowledge and adapting to the student’s pace. We also attended guest speaker talks from NASA, Microsoft, Comcast, an inventor, and patent attorney - which were extremely insightful and inspiring.

When we reached the final showcase for their devices - it was a very good feeling. Seeing these students who had minimal exposure and experience, suddenly being able to produce these prototypes for wearable devices was just crazy. I am extremely proud of my students and their appreciation was great to hear too - a wholesome moment.

Closing Remarks

I am currently writing my reflection, as I am flying back home, watching the sunrise across Ireland.

Sunrise over Ireland

The impact that my LiA had was amazing. It gave me the experience I needed, and provided me with a new perspective on life. I was able to navigate through a complex, unknown environment, whilst at the same time staying true to my own personal values and ethical principles. This project also allowed me to focus and work alongside TSN on a passion of mine. As mentioned in my scholar spotlight:

“A famous quote is, "It's not where you start but where you finish that counts". I am a firm believer in this. The project may start slow or have obstacles, but what matters is how you will finish. You may come from a low socioeconomic background, but that should never limit your potential. Anyone with the right motivation and mindset in what they want to do should be able to access the right resources they need to achieve their goals—especially if it will positively impact the world.”

I am striving to create a future where everyone is the best they can be, no matter where they started in life. In the word’s of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II,

"When life seems hard, the courageous do not lie down and accept defeat; instead, they are all the more determined to struggle for a better future."

If I have to work even harder for a better future, then so be it. I am grateful to the foundation for giving me this opportunity to work towards a better future and my dreams.

A type of rose I found called 'dreams come true'

Special Thanks & Memories

I would like to take this opportunity to say thank you to Tufts University, TSN and the York Laidlaw Team. A personal thank you also goes to Dawn & Jim; your hospitality was amazing, especially the birthday cake (pictured on the top right)! Here are some memories :)

Memories.

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