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Exciting Announcement: WE'RE HIRING!!!

We're incredibly excited to announce that we're hiring for the next HackSchool Director position in Denver, CO!

[We'll be announcing a number of other positions over the coming weeks and months--from data and curriculum to operations--so subscribe here if you'd like to keep updated on that!]

It's a pretty amazing opportunity (one that I know is a dream position for a lot of people, and it certainly would have been for me when I was starting out) so please pass this along to anyone you know who might even have a 1% chance of being interested. The full info is below (embedded and you can download this posting here), but here's a little about the people who might be excited about applying:

Lots of hustle; entrepreneurial; wants to make a big impact now and in the coming years on local, national, and international levels; skills in both software development and circuits; deep understanding of what it means to live as part of a marginalized group of people; great relationship skills and high emotional intelligence; thrives with an abundance of freedom; has vision and is thoughtful about having a lasting impact.

Deadline: rolling applications until EOD Friday, May 12, 2017.
Position: begins July 1, 2017 (small amount of flexibility), in Denver, CO.

Download the posting here!

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Quick Update from India!

Thought we'd share a quick update on our work for Devnar School for the Blind in Hyderabad, India! Below are pictures of some of our students (Carlos and Shukri) with some of the materials, and below that is a picture we just received of students in India using their materials. SOOOOOO AWESOME!!!!

For more background on this project, check out this link!

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Refugees Make Beautiful Patriots

Shukri's parents were Somali refugees, and her home country is America.

Shukri's parents were Somali refugees, and her home country is America.

Shukri's brother died in Somalia. He was six. Her family fled poverty and violence soon after and gained refugee status in Kenya, the US, and eventually earned American citizenship.

They left their home, friends, and family in search of a safe place for their children. Throat cutting and gang rape were commonplace in Somalia. Shukri's mother remembers that, "You’d walk on the street and see people getting shot in front of your eyes, people left Somalia because they didn’t want to watch people die."

Shukri is an American citizen, and she is my student. This makes me happy because though the refugee process took years, the United States recognized that our country is better because of her.

She is in high school and wants to be a biochemical engineer:

"My parents didn’t have a chance to change the world. They had to make sure we survived. I want to take advantage of what they’ve worked so hard to bring me. This is how my childhood shaped my ambitions to help people."

I've gotten to know this incredibly thoughtful and intelligent young woman over the past two years. As an educator, it's humbling to know students like Shukri: when she concentrates on a problem, the intensity is electric.

On top of schoolwork, she is leading two projects at one of America's first socially-conscious makerspaces. Her first project, a low-cost prosthetic robotic arm, and the second, a network of "smart" free food pantries located in our lower-income neighborhood in Denver, CO. She is focused on improving the lives of real people in our Denver community, and she works hard every day to repay her parents and the country that gave her a real shot at life.

America made a wise decision to grant Shukri's family citizenship, and we did so without alienating entire nations. Shukri's work to help our local community—and her achievements as a young American—will strengthen our country and make us safer.

Oh, and I almost forgot to mention: she is Muslim.

I asked Shukri her take on the recent travel ban, and here's what she said:

“I’ve never lived in Somalia, so I don’t know exactly what it’s like. I was born and raised in America, and I had it a lot better than my parents. But from their hard work and struggle to get me where I am today, I know that these refugees are not bad people—they’re just trying to help their kids through life without going through the same thing. Not everyone is what Muslims are perceived as right now, people are coming here for reasons different than what Trump is trying to say we’re coming here for.”

We don't need to alienate nations to be safe. People like Shukri make us safe.

As an educator, I've had to think very hard about what to say to my high school students in the middle of all this. I'm reminded of what my teachers said to me after 9/11. They told me that the goal of terrorism is to strike enough fear into our hearts that, in our frenzy to maintain safety, we harm ourselves. This strikes me as correct, and I believe it's something we've lost track of in the years since.

America must be strong, and we must continue to create great patriots like Shukri.

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9News Storytellers Profile

[Click the photo above the play the Storytellers video!]

We've posted quite a bit of media from Anahi's most recent White House visit (here), but we just have to share this 9News Storytellers profile because it's just so great. Enjoy!

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HackSchool Goes to India

Carlos and Shukri with the mathematics models and more printing out behind them--they also wrote letters to the students at Devnar!

Carlos and Shukri with the mathematics models and more printing out behind them--they also wrote letters to the students at Devnar!

Well...kind of...

We're not flying to India, but one of our projects is!

HackSchool is partnered with Devnar School for the Blind in Hyderabad, India--a K12 school for more than 500 visually impaired students. We started talking with them about a year ago and discovered that their students have a difficult time learning concepts that traditionally rely on diagrams in text books. This is especially true in the sciences and mathematics (e.g, the structure/function of the human heart, the model of an atom, or the shape of hexahedra).

They then sent us lists of concepts that they were in need of 3D models for (mathematics, biology, chemistry, and physics), and we have just completed our first set. Thanks to the hard work of our HackSchool Mentor Jesse White and a number of HackSchool students, we just sent more than 50 mathematical models halfway across the world!

Our goal is to partner with a 3D printing company in Hyderabad so that we can truly utilize the benefits of 3D modeling/printing technology in the next 6 months. This will enable our students to design 3D models here at HackSchool and email them straight to our 3D printing partner who will print our students models for Devnar's students to use.

Take a moment for that to sink in: a student who has never left the city of Denver could, within a matter of hours, design and physically manufacture a 3D educational model halfway across the globe. For free.

This is the world we live in. We're not "preparing students for the future," we're in the future, and students are using these tools to solve real communities' problems now.

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A HackSchool Thanksgiving

Our students love doing good things for the community.

A while back, we posted about our community project: Smart Pantry for Families in Need. After pouring concrete footing, and quite a bit of work to get the pantry itself functional, our students painted it proudly in Bronco colors and installed it just in time for Thanksgiving!

It's located half way between STRIVE Prep - Excel and North High School (exact location here). Above is a photo of one of our community members adding a box of non-perishable food to the pantry.

The idea here is simple: if you have extra, leave some. If you need some, take some. The next addition to the pantry will be some smart technology that the kids are designing (more on this in a future post).

We're currently wrapping up partnership talks with the Food Bank to collaborate with us on this, so look for more news coming on that front as well!

Thanks so much, first and foremost to our students who put hard work into this, as well as to Jesse White, Megan Ross, Nhi To, and to administrators at both STRIVE Prep - Excel and North High School. You're all amazing!

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Student Project: Advanced Safety for the Future

Angel testing out projection as a method of creating a Heads-Up Display for their advanced safety headgear.

Angel testing out projection as a method of creating a Heads-Up Display for their advanced safety headgear.

Angel and Carlos want makerspaces (and eventually workplaces) to be more safe.

When students enter a makerspace and see saws, drills, 3D printers, laser cutters, circuitry components, and so on, they are often overwhelmed. Further, they don't know how to use the tools or which ones could pose a significant safety risk.

Angel and Carlos recognized this and have set out to make "advanced headgear" that tells the user about what they see around them. Their current plan is to create a safety mask powered by a smart "heads-up display." Check out their most recent sketch below.

More to come!

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Student Voice: A Trump Presidency

[For context, almost all of our students identify as Latina/o, Hispanic, or Chicana/o.]

Today was the most intense day in my teaching career. For many of our students, it was one of the worst days of their life. What did it feel like to walk into school this morning? Fear.

It doesn't matter whether you agree or disagree with our students politically. It's easy to criticize people's opinions. It's harder to look a crying teenager in the eyes and say something meaningful.

By their words, I heard the American dream die twelve times before lunch. Our job is to help them put it back together.

Our students wanted to process the election results. So we did. Some of their words were optimistic, and some of their words were not. They wanted to give advice to younger students (and, I suspect, to themselves). And let me tell you: these words were hard-earned.

Enough from me--here's what they had to say:

"I'm scared that if my dad gets deported, they're going to kill him when he tries to come back to me."

"Nobody deserves to fear the president. You should change this fear into action, eventually. Don't rush your feelings! Feel the way you want and don't let anybody tell you that you're feeling wrong."

"Many of you might feel that there is nothing in your will to change the outcome, but you can change yourself. Education really is the key to salvation. Being an understanding, humble person can take you so far in life. Do not let fear and hatred overcome you."

"Do not be afraid of standing up for what you believe in. Do not let this election discourage you as a person or where you came from, but let it be a lesson to you. Educate yourself and understand the sexism and racism in this world. Today is a day to grieve, but from then on it's a fight. It's a fight everyday so that one day there will be a pure world with no hate. We may never be alive to see that day come, but know in our hearts that we fought for it to be possible."

"He has only proved that we were wrong when we tried to believe that as Americans, we are smart, talented, and progressive. We aren't. We have shown the face of hate across our country. Americans can be selfish, but all of this is okay. We cannot change it. We can only continue and be proud to be so diverse."

"Do not worry about what is going to happen in our country. There are many things that we can do that will keep us from falling apart. We as a community all feel the same way. What we can do is make each other happy. We will push each other to be the best of our abilities. We will get through this battle, and we will win. As the new generations that we are, we will decide what our future looks like."

"Why should I keep working hard? America has turned it's back on immigrants."

"I know most of you guys and girls are afraid, sad, and broken, and you really don't know what to do. I know everyone is afraid to lose your loved ones, especially if you're a minority. I can't lie. I'm broken too. Shit, I'm even sad, but I've learned that the only way things will get better is if we all stick to our dreams and what thinks are important to us. What happened yesterday with the presidential election is gone. Trump is the face of the country, but that shouldn't matter. Your family, your friends, everyone you love, your dreams, and hope, even yourself is what matters."

[An extended version of this post was published on Chalkbeat.]

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HackSchool: Anahi, President Obama, and Advocacy

Yes, that is our student Anahi with her arm around President Obama.

Anahi has lived in the United States for only two years and has spoken English for only two years. As she has said, she never could have imagined that she would visit the White House not once, but twice...in one year! She and her family have an incredible story that defies all odds--see this recent Telemundo story on her and the trip here (Spanish).

All of us at HackSchool are very proud of what Anahi's hard work has accomplished, and we're excited that she's helping to blaze the trail and open up even more opportunities for all the students in HackSchool. She has not only created enormous opportunities for herself, but there are some very exciting things coming down the pipe for all of our students as well!

As an advocate for education through community problem-solving, for girls in STEM fields, and for immigrants working to make our country better, there is no better place to be than the White House. Anahi's got some exciting stuff with the Governor of Colorado coming up too...but more on that in a later post.

I won't say a lot about why she was invited back (see this post for details), but in short: Anahi was selected to be one of President Barack Obama's 11 Kid Science Advisors. Also around the table were Obama’s chief science adviser, Dr. John Holdren, astronauts Scott and Mark Kelly, NASA Director Charles Bolden, and director of the National Science Foundation, France Córdova. See the video above.

During their meeting, Anahi gave the following pitch--which she wrote and practiced relentlessly:

"One day, I was walking down the street with my mom and I saw a blind person who was about to cross the street. I realized how dangerous the situation was, so I decided to help blind people by making a 'smart' cane that will tell them the objects around them so they avoid accidents. I was able to do this because we had recently started HackSchool, where students are capable to solve community problems through technology. But the cool thing about this is that students make and build things instead of just listening to a teacher. I would like that you help open more programs and schools like HackSchool where students can use technology to help our community and improve this country."

Anahi has gotten a lot of attention for her accomplishments, so I'll just list some of the media below. We are very proud of the social justice advocate Anahi is developing herself into, and we're excited for the opportunities she is creating for students in HackSchool, in Colorado, and around the country.

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HUGE News: HackSchool at the White House, Washington Post

At HackSchool, we know that opportunities change lives. Two HackSchool students and I visited the White House last April and met with a Senior Advisor to Obama in the Office of Science and Technology Policy.

This past Monday, Anahi, a student on the HackSchool Leadership and Social Innovation Team was invited back to the White House as a White House Kid Science Advisor. Read more about this, and hear what Anahi had to say, in this Washington Post article! Anahi will be in a meeting with the head of NASA, head of the National Science Foundation, and Obama's direct Advisor on Science and Technology. Check out her invitation:

Over the past several months, after Obama's announcement, the Administration has sifted through thousands of submissions from students to join his the President as his Kid Science Advisors. The White House selected 11 students from around the country, and one of them is Anahi.

When Anahi joined HackSchool, she was very soft-spoken and had trouble advocating for herself at school. Through hard work on her project (a "smart" can for blind people), she got deeper into our work at HackSchool and applied for the HackSchool Leadership Team trip to Indianapolis and Washington DC last year. With room for only two student leaders, competition was fierce.

During her application interviews, I made it clear that this trip would involve public speaking under conditions that would overwhelm most adults, and she said that her voice was something she wanted to work hard to improve. Read the previous link for details, but I can unequivocally say that the experiences were a staggering success.

Now, Anahi will be making her second trip for a meeting at the White House this year as a Kid Science Advisor to the President of the United States. There are a number of personal details about her life story that I will not tell here in public, but believe me when I say this: the fact that the White House has asked to use her voice to represent an entire country students is as unlikely a story as any I could imagine.

HackSchool is not about giving students things, it's about creating opportunities for students to make things. In a very real way, Anahi has used these opportunities to create her future...and in a way that most of us could never dream of.

Congratulations, Anahi! I can't wait to post an update after you've met with some of the most powerful people in the world! Seriously...wow...

In case you missed it the first time, check out this short snippet of Anahi talking about her dreams:

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Community Project: "Smart" Pantry for Families in Need

Believe it or not, solving real community problems is not only difficult and inspiring, it's also a ton of fun! Turns out one of Angelica's ideas was sparked by a mishap with a pinball machine... Pictured: our community guest, Ms. Ross, and Khaled.

Believe it or not, solving real community problems is not only difficult and inspiring, it's also a ton of fun! Turns out one of Angelica's ideas was sparked by a mishap with a pinball machine... Pictured: our community guest, Ms. Ross, and Khaled.

Our students care about their community. A lot. Their passion for giving back never ceases to amaze us. When I say this, I really do mean their passion, not just the fact that they want to give back.

Over 90% of students at our school qualify for free and reduced lunch. To put this in perspective, in order to meet this qualification, a family of 4 must have a combined annual income of less than $31,525. Yes, you read that right.

Little-known fact: Denver Public Schools seldom calls snow days NOT because they want to squash the fun we would have in 6 inches of snow, but because very many of our students don't get breakfast or lunch if they don't come to school.

A teacher at our partner school, STRIVE Prep - Excel, recently had an idea about how we might address the issue of hunger in the community. She came to speak with HackSchool students to see if they could help.

We talked about solutions and spent a good chunk of time collaboratively brainstorming solutions and potential problems that might come up with our proposed solution. 

*Ahem* Side note: when I say "we," I mean the students. All I personally did was write their ideas on the board...so I really shouldn't take any credit here. *Anyway...*

Sebastian (with our guest, Ms. Ross) explaining his ideas for a mechanical security device for the "smart" pantry.

Sebastian (with our guest, Ms. Ross) explaining his ideas for a mechanical security device for the "smart" pantry.

We ended up deciding that we should create a "free food pantry" of sorts, where community members could leave and take free non-perishable food and school supplies. Sounds simple enough, right?

Well, our HackSchool students identified about 20 problems that we'll have to solve for as we move forward from theft/vandalism to safety to privacy for families. Luckily, we have some incredibly passionate and hard working students to help solve these problems!

Angelica discusses some of the pitfalls of security systems and the need to get it just right so that it (1) prevent theft as much as possible while (2) not making it too difficult for community members in need to use the pantry.

Angelica discusses some of the pitfalls of security systems and the need to get it just right so that it (1) prevent theft as much as possible while (2) not making it too difficult for community members in need to use the pantry.

Current Status:
We talked with school administrators on our North High School/STRIVE Prep - Excel shared campus to determine a location. Students then broke ground, cut support posts, and poured concrete footings which are drying as I write this. We're now in the process of breaking into sub-teams to tackle the various problems that students identified, and we're looking forward to making a real impact in our community this year!

There's a first time for everything! Breaking ground and pouring concrete footing for the "smart" pantry's support posts! Turns out it's hard  to get through bedrock with shovel...

There's a first time for everything! Breaking ground and pouring concrete footing for the "smart" pantry's support posts! Turns out it's hard  to get through bedrock with shovel...

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HackSchool: Round 2!

Written next to our new HackSchool room (photos coming soon)!

Written next to our new HackSchool room (photos coming soon)!

HackSchool's first year was pretty amazing, to say the least. As an organization that works with students, we have learned an enormous amount about how to (1) help students develop projects they're passionate about, (2) guide students through incredibly difficult technological problem-sets,  and (3) combine technology and social-cause work into student-led, real-world projects. Visit our blog for more details and stories from students.

School is now and session, and HackSchool year 2 is recently underway!

This year, HackSchool is expanding by offering two programs: the Leadership and Social Innovation Program and our weekly Drop-In Program.

Leadership and Social Innovation Program

We were very impressed with student applications, and we selected 7 students to join this impressive team. More on them coming soon. These students will tackle a pair of major world issues of their choice. They will get intensive mentorship, resources, and chances to lead in Colorado and around the country. Here are a few snippets from our finalists' applications!

"The world is full of issues, but we are here in the world to try to solve them."

"So many people think that the internet community is bad and malicious but in reality its amazing how many more people you can meet. One difficult challenge I've faced and overcoming is depression and being a shut in. Again, this links to my big issue idea and how the people I can call family are oddly through the internet. These people have helped more then anyone I've met face to face."

"One of my biggest issues is education. It is something not everyone has access to and I would like to change the structure of how students should learn. Instead of following the guidelines of a regular step by step."

And finally, before I leave you for today, here are a few memories from our first couple of weeks. Many more to come!

Day 1 of HackSchool Leadership and Social Innovation Team meetings. Students are learning their way around the brand-spankin'-new HackSchool Workshop and making a map of the different stations...and naming them ridiculous things! Post from them to come, but hint: one of the stations is called The Hair Salon.

Day 1 of HackSchool Leadership and Social Innovation Team meetings. Students are learning their way around the brand-spankin'-new HackSchool Workshop and making a map of the different stations...and naming them ridiculous things! Post from them to come, but hint: one of the stations is called The Hair Salon.

HackSchool Leader Shukri cheesin' it up with her Arduino controlled LED array!

HackSchool Leader Shukri cheesin' it up with her Arduino controlled LED array!

HackSchool Leader Sebastian taking a rest with the blueprint of our first community project of the year: a "smart" give-one-take-one food cabinet for the North/Excel High School campus! (More coming soon)

HackSchool Leader Sebastian taking a rest with the blueprint of our first community project of the year: a "smart" give-one-take-one food cabinet for the North/Excel High School campus! (More coming soon)

HackSchool Leaders Nahomi and Shukri with some HackSchool drop-in students on day 1 of circuit and robotics exploration!

HackSchool Leaders Nahomi and Shukri with some HackSchool drop-in students on day 1 of circuit and robotics exploration!

 

 

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Luz Builds a Drone: First Test (Video)

Luz has been hard at work for the past couple of months building her drone (quadcopter), and her work is finally paying off! Like any complex project, she's run into her fair share of obstacles. She has conquered them all so far, which is doubly impressive since she had no prior experience with either electronics or physics (she hasn't even taken a high school physics class yet!).

The video above was the first power-up test for Luz's drone servo motors--configured to be controlled simultaneously. Success! Very exciting!

Catalogue of Problems Solved:

  1. Where to start? The best way to learn to create with technology is to find good documentation. Luz developed some serious skills in this phase--frustrating at times, but that's what it takes to figure something out on your own. In this phase, she developed the following skills:
    • Vetting technological documentation for clarity, comprehensiveness, and in-depth explanations.
    • Effectively using Google to find information. If you don't work with students on a daily basis, it might surprise you to know that it's common to see students Google phrases like "where does the red wire go?". This is a skill we adults take for granted, but it's absolutely critical to self-driven learning.
    • Gleaning useful information from sources that are written far above your level of understanding. Technical articles and documentation is often written assuming at least a college degree. Independent learners need to be able to draw from all of their life experience to understand things far above their level
    • Recovering from false starts. Without having experience reading technological documentation, the only way you can learn how to evaluate it is to start using it to design your project. This can result in false starts when you discover that it has massive holes. Luz had two false starts with various quadcopter documentation, but finally found a resource that helped her understand the process she was undertaking.
       
  2. What parts do I need to build this? This is a tricky one with electronics--especially if you have no experience building circuits! After a primer from me about the basics of circuits and electronics (voltage, current, power, integrated circuits, hardware/software interface, etc.), Luz embarked upon a quest to create a list of parts. This involved:
    • Understanding the physics of basic circuits. In order to build and test a circuit, you need to understand how electricity flows through conductive materials, lest you explode your project. With a basic understanding of how electricity flows through a circuit, and how it interacts with a few key components, anyone can answer the question: "If I'm running 4 servo motors each with a max current of 6.7A and a max power of 84.4W, what does the voltage of my battery need to be?"
    • Evaluating dozens of components for compatibility. How do you tell the difference between this battery and this battery? Which one should I use? What kind of connector do I need for battery charging and discharge into the drone? Questions like this can only be answered through a process of building a parts list for a project and thinking through the build process before buying parts.
    • Finding compatible parts with free shipping (preferably not from China). Without giving thought to this, you could spend over $100 on shipping alone, so if the part you want is too expensive to ship quickly, you'll have to find a replacement part on Amazon Prime, SparkFun, or somewhere else we get free shipping. This can be a challenge and requires a deeper dive into the parts to understand what you can and can't substitute.
       
  3. Problems that came up along the way, solved by Luz:
    • How to solder wires and circuit boards without ruining the parts or the skin on your hands.
    • How to pick music that's not too embarrassing to be heard singing along to while soldering pins to your flight controller board.
    • Cutting and stripping wires to the proper length (to allow for mistakes/alternate uses later).
    • How to avoid shorted wires/electronic components.
    • Using a multimeter to test electronics and your own workmanship.
    • Understanding screw and screw hole threads.
    • Cutting strips of industrial velcro (much more challenging than it sounds).
    • Looking up wiring charts for non-standard servo motors.
    • Reading markings on integrated circuits and discerning function of IC pins.
    • Modifying connector ends/plugs for compatibility.
    • The importance of creating your own daily set-up and put-away procedures.
    • Understanding the particular workflow and process that makes you most productive.

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How to Achieve the American Dream

Anahi has lived in this country for less than two years. She has spoken English for less than two years. Just 12 hours earlier, she helped lead HackSchool's competition team in an incredibly successful performance in The Mind Trust's School Design Competition. Then, she stood overlooking the South Lawn of the White House in Washington DC.

Anahi moved to America for a better education and a better future. This is how she'll make it.

Thanks to our amazing friend Andrew, Senior Adviser of Making in the Executive Office of the President, Office of Science and Technology Policy, two of HackSchool's student leaders know what it feels like to stand in the most powerful place on earth.

We talked science and technology policy. Edgar and Anahi sought advice--from the source--about how to work their way to the top. They asked him how to live a good life. We talked about future collaborations, the history of the place we were in, and what keeps a White House senior staffer up at night. We even ran into an astronaut.

These are the things we all know make a difference for students' futures. Connections, advice, experiencing true leadership. These things create opportunity. But as adults, we often forget what really makes an impact on young minds. The smell of a White House library. The intensity of the Secret Service's presence. The firm and inviting greeting, "welcome to the White House," as it echoes off the stone tiles. The chill you get, taking pictures on a smartphone in the same spot where slaveholders once stood.

This is the visceral stuff of childhood. It leaves a lasting impression and shapes the way we imagine our futures.

To feel the power of such a place, and to know that you can stand with one of our country's senior leaders without wilting, without being intimidated into silence, and to confidently seek perspective and advice. To know from experience--beyond a shadow of a doubt--that as an adolescent, you can thrive in that moment. That is personal empowerment, and that is something most of us adults never had the privilege to know.

Edgar's education has been marked by a string of underfunded schools in high-poverty neighborhoods. He spent an entire year jumping from hotel to hotel. And yet he is one of the top performing students in his school, holds numerous leadership positions, and is an incredibly kind and empathetic person.

He spent over 100 hours preparing for our Indianapolis and Washington DC trip, and took full advantage of every opportunity that day.

Later that night on the long, surreal flight back to Denver, Edgar wrote, "without a doubt, the best experience that I have had so far in my life."

This is how young people make their American dream.

This picture of Edgar with a White House Senior Adviser is the future for our students.

This picture of Edgar with a White House Senior Adviser is the future for our students.

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What Happens When Students Compete Against America's Top Adult Innovators?

Photo cred: The Mind Trust.

Photo cred: The Mind Trust.

I love this photo. Edgar (11th grade), Anahi (9th grade), and I (22nd grade) competing the final round of The Mind Trust's School Design Competition in Indianapolis.

I am so incredibly proud of them. This was really the Shark Tank of education, the big times. When we got on the bus with the other competitors, Edgar looked at me and said that he thought this was a high school competition. Nope. Not one other student in the building. We were competing against the top education innovators in the country: from 36 teams to 12 to 4 in the final round.

The intimidatingly impressive panel of 14 judges was made up of the executive leadership of organizations including New Schools Venture Fund, Purdue Polytechnic Institute, Education Cities, Stand for Children, Teach for America, Progressive Policy Institute, Walton Family Foundation, USA Funds, Transcend Education, and more.

When all was said and done, we practiced our 10-minute presentation roughly 40 times over the course of a month. And this, after hours of writing, refining, and practicing our individual parts. This was a lot of work by adult standards. For Edgar and Anahi, it was on top of being a full-time student.

At HackSchool, our mission is to teach America's future leaders to solve the world's hardest problems. We do this by partnering students with industry professionals to design and execute projects that solve real people's problems. This competition was a wonderful case study in just that. I am an industry professional in the education world, and I worked collaboratively (on the same level) with a 9th grader and an 11th grader. We were massively successful on a national competition stage, and the students fully pulled their own weight.

People are often skeptical that high school students are capable of performing at the highest levels in the professional world. They are wrong. With the right training and coaching, high school students can perform at levels considerably higher than the average adult. They may not be in the "elite adult performer" category, but neither are most of us...and they're not even adults yet!

In the end, we came in a close runner-up in the final round, and all night at the dinner event (see below), we couldn't finish a conversation without being interrupted by a passerby and judges expounding on their love HackSchool and our presentation...it was great. The kids presented at the highest levels of the professional world and came out on top.

The big event dinner after an intense day of competing: 700+ of Indianapolis' business and industry leaders.

The big event dinner after an intense day of competing: 700+ of Indianapolis' business and industry leaders.

Afterward

Indianapolis wasn't all serious! We stayed at the Westin, which happened to be the same hotel as many of the NCAA women's basketball teams were staying...it was the Final Four! The night before our big competition, we were working out and swimming laps (good strategies for keeping sharp and calm before a big presentation). I was finishing my warm-up by the pool while Anahi and Edgar were swimming, when an entire DIII women's basketball team burst in, screaming.

They had just won the national championship, not an hour before, and were in search of a place to celebrate. Needless to say, they were on a totally different level than us. Also needless to say, having won the national championship, they deserved the pool. We quickly turned the pool over, lest we be overcome by cannonballs and chanting. It was a bizarre and awesome turn of events.

It's also worth mentioning that this was Anahi's first time on a plane. A momentous occasion. This first photo encapsulates the essence of wonder:

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HackSchool in the News

The HackSchool competition team presenting on the big stage during the final round of The Mind Trust's School Redesign Competition. Edgar (student, Junior) and Anahi (student, Freshman) did an incredible job! Photo cred: Ben Jackson.

The HackSchool competition team presenting on the big stage during the final round of The Mind Trust's School Redesign Competition. Edgar (student, Junior) and Anahi (student, Freshman) did an incredible job! Photo cred: Ben Jackson.

HackSchool recently traveled to Indianapolis for a school redesign competition and the White House Washington DC. More on this in updates coming soon!

We met some of the most incredible educators from around the country, who are doing some of the most fundamentally different and interesting things.

We're very excited to let you all know that Chalkbeat has written an article on HackSchool. Check it out here!

The article starts:

"At HackSchool, students don’t just make gadgets for the sake of creating something cool and high-tech. The whole idea behind the after-school program that’s taken root in a Denver charter high school is to make things that matter."
Read the rest of the article by clicking here!

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HackSchool Goes to the White House

Anahi, Edgar, and me (with some successful photobombs in the background)--the traveling HackSchool Leadership Team!

Anahi, Edgar, and me (with some successful photobombs in the background)--the traveling HackSchool Leadership Team!

Exciting news!

Over the past few weeks, HackSchool held a student leadership competition. The kids spent many hours on their applications, which consisted of a series of short essays on  the state of American education and how we can improve it. Check out the end of this post for a short essay by one of the competition winners!

The winners of this competition, Edgar and Anahi, will be traveling with me on a 4-day, all expenses paid trip to Indianapolis and Washington DC from April 4-7. Thanks SO much to The Mind Trust for sponsoring this!

In Indianapolis, we'll be competing in The Mind Trust's education redesign competition... A true "Shark Tank" of the education world. This is a pretty big deal for the students since this is very much an adult competition, and we'll be pitching to some of the biggest influences and deepest pockets in the education world.

In our pitch, we'll be talking about what we've learned about the future of education from our experiences thus far at HackSchool. More specifically, the importance of solving real communities' problems and why this is a necessity for any good school of the future. We'll have 10 minutes to present, then 5 minutes fielding questions from the judges. The prize is $50,000.

From there, we'll move on to Washington DC, where we'll be meeting with the bigwigs at the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy.  The OSTP is doing some great work for STEM education and innovation. Edgar and Anahi will get an invaluable peek behind the American policy-making curtain. There's lots to be excited for here. But I'm most excited that Anahi and Edgar will have something tangible, physical to imagine should they ever set their sights on technology policy. They'll know how to envision their future in detail: what the building looks like, how the desks are set up, the smell and temperature of the place. All mundane details, but details that let a person's imagination grab hold and see itself, one day, sitting at one of those desks.

Stay tuned for updates--we'll be live blogging the trip as we go!

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HackSchool Leadership Application: Student Response

What is wrong with education in America? What are the problems within education and who do these problems affect?

We live in a country that values spending more on military and funding federal prisons than they do funding the brilliant minds of the 21st centuries. With over a decade of experience attending public schools, I have learned that the American school system is flawed above anything else. Besides not funding our education system, there are also other problems in the system.

One problem that I have experienced in my school career, is that the students are not prepared for what happens after high school. Our schools do not provide enough resources and classes that teach students the fundamentals of actually living, yet students know how to solve trigonometric equations, students know the themes that are present in the Gettysburg Address, students know how to read and understand the periodic table, as if knowing these things will help get a loan, get a home, pay my bills, or solve world's problems. We need to provide our students with quality information that they will actually use, rather than pilling up meaningless work that they're going to be tested on. Students are trained like robots to learn information, practice, and show the people "up above" that we are learning something. What good does this do for the students? Standardize testing in America has become a way for schools to get money, rather than to gauge what students have learned and what needs to be .

Education is important to me because just like many others, it can give me a better life. I have my dreams and aspirations, and education can help me get there. School and my academics has always been something that I cared about, especially because my mother pushed me and my siblings to do better. My sister is a junior, studying criminal justice at Metropolitan State University, and my brother is a freshman, studying architecture. Of course, I look up to them with extreme pride. They have been able to achieve what many in our family have not been ever to achieve. One of those people is my mom. She had to stop going to school once she was done with 8th grade. She tells us that she wants to go back to school, and make a career of it. I look around at my family, and notice that each of them have had different experiences with education, and all of them push me to do better in school. I know want to get my masters degree in Civil Engineering at Colorado School of Mines.

All of the problems that I have presented only effect the students, and the students future. Students have the right to an education. This education should  present meaningful information that will actually help them in their future, not something that they need to remember and write down on a paper to prove that they know what 1+1 equals. 

I want to make school for students a place in which they are the top priority. Where there voices are heard. I want to make school meaningful, and in a place where it is fun and safe to learn.

-Edgar

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Student Project: Super Cheap Solar Phone Case

Nhi holding up v0.1 working prototype of her team's super cheap solar charging smartphone case.

Nhi holding up v0.1 working prototype of her team's super cheap solar charging smartphone case.

The dramatic digitization of the world has inflicted deep costs on rural communities and developing nations. But the smartphone revolution has begun to combat this, making it possible to thrive in a digital world from skyscraper to village.

Even so, it's not all sunshine and roses. Rural smartphone users around the world often have to walk to charging stations powered by generators...and gasoline is hardly and efficient method of charging digital devices.

Some companies like Waka Waka and Fenix Intl make portable solar chargers, ranging from $80-200, but these solutions tend to be too costly, cumbersome, bulky, and inaccessible to people who would benefit most.

What if there was a way to make a solar charger that requires no extra parts or bulk, no walks to a charging station, more protection, extends the phone's battery life, and cost 10 times less for people to buy or make it themselves?

Well, HackSchool has a team working on making just that! The team--Nhi, Edgar, Kavon, Keren, and Dayna--has finished their v0.1 prototype, which has all the functionality they need. They're now working in 3D modeling software to design the slim case itself, which they'll 3D print in the next month or so. Then, onwards with testing and iterating!

Once their case designs are done, this will all fit into a standard-size phone case. Check out the video below of their prototype v0.1 in action! 

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Student Project: Smart Cane for Blind People

Note: if you want to get up to speed on HackSchool, check out other posts on the blog! Click here and scroll down!

Many of our students have developed a wonderful desire to design solutions for people with disabilities. As an adult, this makes me very proud, especially because we didn't encourage them in general particular direction. 

Today, I wanted to share a quick sneak-peak into Anahi's mind. She's a brilliant young woman who continues to impress her teachers. She's a very hard worker, super helpful to her fellow students, and her impromptu guitar mini-concerts for her friends are pretty hilarious...especially because she doesn't know how to play guitar! Here she is!

Anahi decided that she wanted to make a "Smart" cane for blind people. She wants to create a cane that can read the environment around the user, connect to Bluetooth headphones, and tell the user helpful details about their surroundings.

After she thought of this, she started the process by thinking about the basic hardware she would need to start. She knew that she wouldn't fully understand everything she would need to create this just yet, but a "good enough for now" list was all she needed.

As she was researching, I stopped by her work area and I was very impressed to find her on websites (like the one in the first picture below) meant for industry professionals. I was going to ask if she needed help with anything, but she most definitely did not. She had several browser tabs open and was comparing optical distance sensors to infrared distance sensors and trying to determine which would be best for her purposes.

One of the things that makes this so impressive is that not only is English her second language, but she has never worked with electronics or sensors before...so that's TWO languages that she's figuring out and designing in at once. Further, she was not just unknowingly bumping around a few websites--she had actually identified multiple specific sensors (among dozens of each type) that would work based on the function she wanted her cane to have.

The next step in her process is to submit and parts order request to me (once she has her initial list), I'll order the parts, and she'll start in on the prototyping process.

As I've already said many times in this post, we're incredibly impressed with her. I hope you've all enjoyed this update--if you have, leave us some comments and share this post!

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Luz Begins to Find Her Power

We have no shortage of amazing young people in HackSchool. Luz is an important role model for young girls, and we are lucky to be able to share her story.

Luz's current project: build a super low-cost drone from scratch that is capable of carrying a small payload.

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