On March 23, the Microsoft-KCI Innovation Awards were presented to three educators who are challenging students to think in new ways and thereby positively impacting their communities. Held at Microsoft, the event showcased the three award winners who submitted innovative teacher-student collaborative projects that fully integrate technology. The awards include cash prizes of $6,000, $3,000 and $1,000.
The first place winner—Bayard Nielsen, Modern Language Department Chair and Spanish teacher at Notre Dame High School in San Jose—designed the project Day Worker Stories: Using Language & Technology to Advocate for our Community. The project’s goal was to empower students to break down cultural barriers in their communities by using language and technology to advocate for others. Nielsen’s students interviewed Spanish-speaking day workers and created a book containing bilingual biographies, superhero comics, and audio-video media. These books were then given to the day workers and their families, as well as the Day Worker Center of Mountain View. The stories focus on the lives of these workers, describing their identity, culture, beliefs and hopes for the future and providing insight into the many different stories and backgrounds that shape this local community. The students managed their projects, with Nielsen coaching from the side. Nielsen saw personal growth in his students, noting: “Some of the most profound learning took place when students took on challenging leadership roles. Roughly 33 students took on additional roles—not for credit, but rather to use their skills and interests to benefit the final product.”
Second place winner—Nancy Andrus, Youth Services Librarian at Sunnyvale Public Library—launched the Make-HER: STEM Exploration for Girls program. The program goal is to increase girls’ interest and confidence in Science/Technology/Engineering/Math through hands-on, project-based learning. Part of the innovation was engaging the mothers of these students as mentors, which extended the STEM learning beyond the workshops and into the home. By tapping into the adventurous spirit of the Maker Movement (designers, inventors and artisans using technology to create new products), the program empowers girls, grades 8 through 12, through process, struggle, iteration, and play. By exposing girls to diverse female STEM educators, Make-HER shows these students how to take ownership of their own STEM journeys. Make-HER is in its third year at Sunnyvale Library. To reach even more girls, Make-HER partners with Columbia Middle School, a Title 1 school in Sunnyvale, to offer after school workshops. Make-HER has served over 900 daughters and mothers to date, has received national attention within the library community, and will be featured in the Harvard Graduate School of Education’s IDEABOOK for family engagement in libraries.
Third place winner Halina Gallagher, STEAM Educator at Mulberry School in Los Gatos—launched the Living in the Watershed project for grades 4 through 6. STEAM adds “Art” to the STEM mix. The goal of the project is for students to understand how pollution accumulates in water streams and to gain awareness of how everyday actions affect wildlife and the quality of watersheds. Additionally, students are empowered to make a difference and to become environmental stewards, and learn that by acting locally they, too, have a global impact.