Not everyone can do what Chelsey Roebuck has.
In 2009, Chelsey and his Columbia University classmate Clayton Dahlman took a summer trip to Nsawam, Ghana. They had gotten a $10,000 grant and bought whatever scientific equipment they could get their hands on. Neither of them had ever been to Africa before. Chelsey had never been out of the U.S. Nevertheless, they stuffed all their equipment into cardboard boxes, bought plane tickets and went to teach science and engineering to kids who had never had such opportunities before.
The camp was big success, and Chelsey and Clayton went on to found ELiTE, Emerging Leaders in Technology & Education. They are now a non-profit corporation headquartered in New York, operating in communities in Ghana, Jamaica, Tanzania and Mexico with little or no access to adequate education.
ELiTE runs their Summer Institute for Technology & Engineering (SITE) program in selected countries each year. For 2013, they are focused on Ghana and Mexico. These three week camps bring practical application of math, science and technology to under-served communities.
Students pick problems that are important to them and develop solutions. They design projects like hydroponic gardens, irrigation, water treatment systems and other things useful to their everyday lives.
ELiTE has also been making a difference locally. They partner with the Harlem School District to provide enrichment programs at four middle and high schools in programming, physics, electronics, robotics, environmental science, and even neuroscience! This September they are launching a new initiative for 6th grade boys from two Harlem schools to provide math tutoring and enrichment classes in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM).
ELiTE has tapped into the powerful idea that education can better your life. It’s a lesson that is applicable anywhere, not just in challenged communities overseas or in urban schools. The adversities faced by children in these communities can make educators feel stuck, unable to reach their students. By breaking from traditional educational models and putting control of their education into the kids’ own hands, ELiTE is getting through.
But would these same techniques apply more generally to students in other schools? We are already seeing some schools and libraries incorporate the makerspace model into their programs. Can design-focused, student-driven curricula work anywhere? Can anyone, you or I, make a difference?
As I said, not everyone can do what Chelsey has. Or can they?
Are you an educator, parent or just someone who cares about education? Sound off in the comments. We want to hear from you.
To hear more about ELiTE from Chelsey himself, come to World Maker Faire in New York. He will be presenting Pop Up Labs: Robotics Classes in a Backpack on Sunday, Sept. 22, from 12:30-1:00 PM. ELiTE uses the Raspberry Pi, Arduino, and other platforms to pilot STEM education programs, packaged in backpacks, to resource limited communities around the world. These backpacks will provide classes in computer science, mechatronics, and robotics.