New Visions Technology Course Inspires Future Inventors & Innovators

The Noisyboy.  Sleepytime Teddy.  Rain Dance Umbrella.

An adjustable chair that plays music when you sit down.  A teddy bear that plays music when hugged.  An umbrella that senses how hard it is raining, and raises the volume of the music it’s playing accordingly.  You may not have heard of these inventions, or of their student inventors…yet.

Technology careers provide incredibly compelling pathways to opportunity for our nation’s young people, allowing today’s students to be both inventors and innovators.  Yet, according to the National Science Foundation, minorities in the U.S. only make up 13 percent of science and engineering jobs, and minority women only make up five percent. 

By exposing its diverse students at its four Bronx Charter Schools to a hands-on lab at Parsons School of Design, New Visions is doing its part to change these statistics. Through the Parsons Creative Technology Course,  New Visions provides its students the opportunity to marshal cutting-edge technologies in a college-level environment and document their creative technology process with learning portfolios that can be used to apply to design or technology-based colleges.

Ryan Raffa, a professor at Parsons who leads the Creative Technology course, is passionate about exposing high school students to college-level work, particularly in design thinking and hands-on application. Inspired after completing a design lab residency with New Visions students, Professor Raffa sought out a grant and worked with the Parson’s Director of Pre-College, Jessica Walker, to offer high school students a class on the college campus.

The course—which provides New Visions students with high school elective credit—is a pilot program based on creative technology and design fundamentals.  The semester-long course developed students’ technical foundations, introduced design and artist processes and practices, and then asked them to create their own projects and prototypes. The final class was a celebration to showcase the projects and test them out in the real world.

The next big inventor or invention might take root in this class.

David Diaz, a student at New Visions Charter High School for Advanced Math and Science II (AMS II), showcased the Noisyboy. David has always loved technology, learning “basic circuitry and how to code” in the class and wants to study engineering in college. 

Professor Raffa felt that “watching David test out his Noisyboy was one of the highlights of the whole course. Just seeing students have an idea, put it down on paper and realize it with their collaborators is amazing.”

Jimmaely Valdez from AMS II, who designed Sleepytime Teddy, learned “a lot about circuitry and programming.” She “felt so professional” and inspired being in a college environment. Jimmaely said, the class was “an awesome experience,” which has motivated her to become a computer scientist or bio-medical engineer.

Clarisse Acolitse, also from AMS II and the inventor of Rain Dance Umbrella, has strengthened her hardware skills through the class. She developed a foundation through robotics club; however, the class has pushed her to constantly try and learn new skills—the latest being Arduino coding, a hardware and software platform that was used in the course.

Students take steps to become future professionals and leaders.

Document everything.   Don’t try everything at once—start with “a simple test” so you can see exactly what works and what doesn’t.  These are just some of the many practical life lessons that the students in the course are learning.

David stressed that “I document everything so next time I can make it better,” and he is constantly taking pictures of his successes and failures. The course even has its own blog in which students share their documentation and the learning process that goes into developing their projects.

Professor Raffa knows this class has broadened the students’ worldview.  It “gives them a different perspective. Change the environment and they see college-age people getting excited about the same things as they are.”

The class has inspired these students to work in math- and science-based fields in order to improve lives. Clarisse Acolitse from AMS II,  has always dreamed of doing something with robotics ever since seeing the movie “WALL-E” and one day hopes to have an “army of WALL-Es” at her disposal. She wants to use her army for good—possibly to help staff children’s hospitals.

The hands-on college environment and the collaborative and engaging structure is instrumental in opening up, in the words of Professor Raffa, “a  place where students can create and design the things they envision in the world around them.” Through this class, New Visions and Parsons are broadening and catalyzing the next generation of STEM leaders.

Feedback from students?

Ashley Moran from AMS spoke for many when she said  “make the class longer. There are so many more things to learn. This program should be done every year!"

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