Spark is a student run program with a goal to send reusable science kits full of experiments to engage students who have few resources.
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Date You Started Your Project Started
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?
Working with kids of all ages, my team and I were inspired by the excitement and joy students display when seeing robots and STEM in action. However, we realized that not all kids receive the same opportunities to learn about STEM. Remote locations and tight budgets prevent access to these tools. Kids in developing countries often have textbooks, but the schools lack the resources to provide hands-on learning and interactive education.
2. Your Solution: How are you planning to solve this problem? Share your specific approach.
To solve the issue of uninteractive and insufficient, STEM “education” we created Spark science kits. Through this initiative, we build and ship Spark kits, shoebox-sized science kits, tightly packed with 16 reusable experiments. Providing affordable, easily manufacturable, and space efficient methods of teaching science to children in areas with limited access to STEM education. To maximize the impact, most materials are reusable, and for experiments that have materials that may need to be replenished - we used items that are easy to find, inexpensive, and fun.
Our greatest challenge was to get the kits to remote locations, which is often cost prohibitive. For example, the costs to ship one kit to an orphanage in Uganda was $80, much higher than the value of the contents of the kit. Since the kits are small, we were able to utilize connections of friends and family, mission trips, and fellow robotics teams already traveling to those various areas as well as international robotics teams we met at competitions. Then the kits are delivered into the hands of children to communities in need.
3. Personal Journey: What’s the story behind why you decided to start this project?
We believe that anyone can be a problem solver. It only takes a Spark. Some time ago, one of our teammates stumbled upon a news article about a man from rural India who made a massive impact on his community by developing a cost-effective way to illuminate homes using water bottles. While working with kids, we felt a spark of inspiration seeing the impact firsthand that basic science experiments could have in creating confident problem solvers. We wanted to share our love and knowledge with STEM across boundaries and across the global community. So we developed shoebox-sized science kits that we have sent to communities across the globe. In the beginning, we started small, working with local kids to develop experiments and experiences; feedback has shown success in capturing the imagination of children worldwide.
4. Selfie Elevator Pitch: Include 1-minute video that answers the following “I am stepping up to make change because...”
Kids in developing countries often have textbooks, but lack the resources to provide hands-on learning and interactive education. We realized that by introducing STEM education to these areas, we can foster more problem solvers. After many iterations & tests, we adapted the experiments we were using in our community to be compact and cost efficient. We believe in providing kids with the education they need to be the changemakers in their own communities.
5. Example: Please walk us through a specific example of what happens when a person or group gets involved with your project.
In the summer of 2017, a member of our team took 6 spark kits to India and shared them with numerous public school children. As she shared the concept of a pulley in the simple machines experiment, the children were quick to recognize a pulley was used in their local well. After her experience, she said, “These kids were all so smart, but they just don’t get the resources they need to learn. After only an hour of the activities, their outlook changed dramatically. Spark broadened their ambitions towards becoming scientists, engineers, and architects.” She noticed their constant inquiry, endless fascination, and limitless desire to understand, and it showed her that even in a dirt classroom of child laborers and street children, Spark creates new ambitions that they had never thought of before.
6. The X Factor: What is different about your project compared to other programs or solutions already out there?
Shipping costs for these kits are very high, so we partner with many other organizations to ensure a sustainable operation. First, we worked with friends, family, and mission trips to take kits during their travel. As Spark grew, we’ve also collaborated with robotics teams who travel to the US for competitions and can take kits back to their home countries. We’ve also worked with universities to distribute kits in their areas. For our partners, we have materials and resources to make distribution easy for them. With this model, we’ve successfully grown this program over the past five years.
7. Impact: How has your project made a difference so far?
Since 2014, Spark has influenced the lives of kids in communities across 43 countries around the world through the distribution of 134 science kits. The reusable materials in each science kit can be used in classrooms and numerous small groups. Wanting to expand our efforts, we have sent kits to schools and orphanages; where kits are used to help introduce science education. In 2017, a professor at Tulane University who runs the STEM Summer Camp reached out to us, asking to provide 15 kits for them to send to New Orleans area teachers in high risk areas to use in the classrooms. Additionally, a teacher training program in Haiti is looking to use the kits to help train teachers to teach science in classrooms.From the government schools of India, to the orphanages of Haiti, to at-risk students in New Orleans, Spark is creating the next generation of problem-solvers around the world.
8. What’s Next: What are your ideas for taking your project to the next level?
When we began the Spark initiative, we relied on mission trips and friends/family to deliver kits internationally. We’ve since grown to work with fellow robotics teams to streamline and send more kits to more places. We are developing connections with possible sponsors, to reach more children. In recent months, other FIRST Robotics teams have begun to inquire and even build and distribute their own kits to share locally and send abroad. We are working to organize those efforts and help connect teams in localized areas to help manufacture the 3-D printed pieces and provide support with instruction book printing, and even more translations. Our goal is to reach as many children as possible to inspire them to explore and create.
9. Which of the following types of expertise would be most useful for you?
10. Finances: If applicable, have you mobilized any of the following resources so far?
Donations between $1k-$5k
How did you hear about this challenge?