Computer Science and Robotics for Children of all Abilities

I am passionate about making computer science & robotics accessible to children of all abilities using a children teaching children model.

Photo of Aneek
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Written by

Additional categories (optional)

  • Technology

Are you employed by T-Mobile or related to an employee of T-Mobile?

  • No

Eligibility: Date of Birth

11/23/2002

Help us stay in touch!

7 Michelle Way . Pine Brook, NJ . 07058 - (973) 652-1886

Website or social media url(s) (optional):

www.PathwaysKids.org and my own website for the classes https://sites.google.com/mcvts.org/pathways-programming/home

Date You Started Your Project Started

01/14/2018

Project Stage: Select the description below that best applies to your approach.

  • Scaling (expanding impact to many new places or in many new ways)

1. The Problem: What problem are you helping to solve?

Children with special needs have been largely excluded from learning with their typical peers especially when it comes to computer science and robotics. Overall, expectations for people having disabilities has been kept far too low. I was determined to change this mindset and initiated programming and robotics classes that would help children with special needs ages 5-21 reach their fullest potential along side their peers without disabilities.

2. Your Solution: How are you planning to solve this problem? Share your specific approach.

We began to solve these issues by using an innovative "children teaching children (CTC)" model. We initially recruited and trained a team of over 25 middle and high school students with a passion for technology. All of these students received a 2 hour training on how to work with children with disabilities. Upon completion, the students became mentors and instructors. Over time, we continued to train and develop the skills our volunteers needed to adapt curriculums to fit the individual learning styles of the children. These youth mentors and instructors became powerful role models. It was clear the children were much more motivated to learn from peers rather than adults. Adults were only used to facilitate and guide our vision for the programs but the students led curriculum development and implementation. This dramatically increased the ownership the students felt for the program and the pride they took in keeping expectations high for all students. Many of our students face unique challenges that require patience, empathy, and hard work to solve. This experience has been transformational to our team and changed not only the lives of the children we work with, but our own!

3. Personal Journey: What’s the story behind why you decided to start this project?

Since a very early age, I have been enrolled in a karate class—and I have stuck with it for the last eleven years of my life. The one thing I remember from my first Sensei is her inspirational motto: “perfect what you have learned, and teach it to others”. These words have always stuck with me, and I remember how my brother, who had joined two years before me, would come home from class and teach me the new moves he had learned that day. I loved learning from someone who I could relate to, him passing on his knowledge to me was one of the most enjoyable experiences of my childhood. In 8th grade, I applied to a vocational high school program where I would be taking classes oriented toward Computer and Information Sciences. After spending 6 months in this program, I believed that I had gained enough knowledge to perfect what I know and pass my knowledge onto the children at Pathways.

4. Selfie Elevator Pitch: Include 1-minute video that answers the following “I am stepping up to make change because...”

I joined Pathways for Exceptional Children and found out about their "Take the Challenge" program. My vision was to begin a computer programming class that would be accessible to all children no matter what their ability level. I used a "children teaching children" model and recruited an entire team of peer mentors. They trained to be instructors and the vision began to roll forward. Other students started robotics programs and today we have 16 computer science programs of all levels.

5. Example: Please walk us through a specific example of what happens when a person or group gets involved with your project.

A few months after starting computer programming classes, I met a middle school student whose name is Julia Kapchinsky. Julia's brother was diagnosed with Aspergers and participated in several of our programming classes. Julia had a profound passion for robotics. We recruited her to begin teaching a Lego EV3 robotics program for children grades 3-6. The class immediately filled with children of all abilities. Julia has been teaching the program since April of 2018 and expanded it to 6 levels of EV3. The EV3 program was so successful that many younger children in grades K-2 also wanted a program. We recruited yet another student who began teaching inclusive We Do Lego 2.0 classes. This program now has 4 levels and prepares children to enter the more advanced EV3 class. What began as a vision has now become a reality and continues to "pay it forward" experiencing exponential growth!

6. The X Factor: What is different about your project compared to other programs or solutions already out there?

The differences include: a) We have not found many programs that teach computer programming and robotics to children with special needs in inclusive settings. b) We do not offer one program, but an array of leveled programs that help children progress to their fullest potential. Our vision is to create measurable outcomes that will translate into opportunities for people with disabilities to become better prepared to enter the technology workforce. c) We use a CTC model that has changed the mindset for the next generation and trained them to become advocates for people with disabilities.

7. Impact: How has your project made a difference so far?

The results have been stunning. Many children with special needs began to outperform children without disabilities. This has helped change the mindset of our community and reduced the fear that inclusion will hinder learning. Since our inception we have taught over 225 children of all abilities and engaged 75 mentors that have volunteered their time. This fall we have reached our largest enrollment with 45 children registered in 9 different classes. Approximately 30% have special needs and/or exhibit varying degrees of difficulty with learning, focus, and social issues. Inclusion has given these children an opportunity to find their passions in technology, progress up to their potential, and develop their self esteem. One child in the 4th grade with Aspergers and ADHD who has been in the program for a year, has progressed to helping to teach his peers. Inclusion is transforms people!

8. What’s Next: What are your ideas for taking your project to the next level?

In order to keep expanding, we need additional computers and robotics equipment. Secondly, we will continue to ally with surrounding high schools in order to recruit mentors and additional youth interested in becoming robotics and programming instructors. From these instructors, we would like to create leaders that can direct and reproduce these programs in other towns. Our mission is to expand our outreach and teach others the value of increasing inclusion and giving access to technology to all students. We are convinced that developing youth leadership can creatively solve issues of segregation and lack of access to technology the disabled experience. We want to develop a clear plan and strategy to help us market and scale our project.

9. Which of the following types of expertise would be most useful for you?

  • Project Plan & Strategy

10. Finances: If applicable, have you mobilized any of the following resources so far?

  • Friend support
  • Family support
  • Sales
  • Mentors/advisors
  • Donations between $1k-$5k

How did you hear about this challenge?

  • Email

Referral: If you discovered the Challenge thanks to an organization or person other than Ashoka or T-Mobile, who was it?

Melinda Jennis, President - Pathways for Exceptional Children

Evaluation results

3 evaluations so far

1. Overall evaluation

5 - This idea rocked my world. It’s awesome! - 33.3%

4 - This idea seems really exciting. With a little more polishing, it’d be among my favorites. - 0%

3 - This has some good elements and some areas for development - 66.7%

2 - This doesn’t inspire me so much - 0%

1 - It didn’t make my heart beat faster. - 0%

2. Changemaker Quality

5 - Absolutely, 100%! - 33.3%

4 - I feel really good about this - very promising - 66.7%

3 - This has some good elements and some areas for development - 0%

2 - This doesn’t inspire me so much - 0%

1 - This entry is weak here - 0%

3. Creativity

5 - Absolutely, 100%! - 66.7%

4 - I feel really good about this - very promising - 0%

3 - This has some good elements and some areas for development - 33.3%

2 - This doesn’t inspire me so much - 0%

1 - This entry is weak here - 0%

No Answer - 0%

4. Commitment

5 - Absolutely, 100%! - 100%

4 - I feel really good about this - very promising - 100%

3 - This has some good elements and some areas for development - 100%

2 - This doesn’t inspire me so much - 0%

1 - This entry is weak here - 0%

No Answer - 0%

5. Connection

5 - Absolutely, 100%! - 33.3%

4 - I feel really good about this - very promising - 66.7%

3 - This has some good elements and some areas for development - 0%

2 - This doesn’t inspire me so much - 0%

1 - This entry is weak here - 0%

No Answer or No Connection - 0%

1 comment

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Photo of Grace Messer
Team

Hi Aneek! I love this and find it so incredibly inspiring. My idea is about an inclusive space to learn and have fun, so in a way, similar to yours. I would love to hear you thoughts, or chat about what has worked well for you. The part about the 4th grader who has perfected what he's learned, and now gets to teach others...ugh, it made my heart sing! I'm so excited for you and the bright future of your program.