We were lucky to catch up with Advaith Subramanian, Shreya Vishwanath, Diyaa Shah, Row Dyer, and Zeynep Akdora recently and have shared our conversation below.
Alright, Advaith, Shreya, Diyaa, Row, and Zeynep.Thanks for taking the time to share your stories and insights with us today. How has Covid changed your business model?
In the dawn of the COVID-19 pandemic, our schools, workplaces, and communities were transitioned to a virtual world, where new apps, like “Zoom,” replaced in-person interactions. Our biggest concern was how we were going to continue Cracking the Wonder Code, our initiative to make STEAM education more accessible, since we had previously been concentrated on running in-person camps. At first, our team planned to delay our camps and “wait the pandemic out.” However, as time went on and things got worse, we determined that a new approach was necessary to further our mission. We researched innovative ways to teach our students using new software with unique features such as “breakout rooms.” What was originally seen as an obstacle became an opportunity to expand our reach to even more students in other parts of the country. Cracking the Wonder Code reached another 100+ students from Washington, Georgia, and other parts of Texas. The pandemic taught us the benefit of a dynamic approach and creative ways to problem-solve to continue to carry out our mission and even expand our horizons.
Advaith Subramanian, Shreya Vishwanath, Diyaa Shah, Row Dyer, and Zeynep Akdora , before we move on to more of these sorts of questions, can you take some time to bring our readers up to speed on you and what you do?
Cracking the Wonder Code has a mission to make STEAM education more accessible to disadvantaged youth and children living in under-resourced communities. As we’ve progressed technologically into the age of artificial intelligence and technology, we’ve realized the importance of STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, and Math) education. However, we’ve also noticed how not all students have the same level of access to this education and resources that we do. We started planning camps for underprivileged students; we introduced them to STEAM concepts like coding, robotics, and graphic design. By working together, we are able to add an interpersonal element to STEAM education and make what seem like really difficult subjects less scary and more approachable by making our camps fun! In every camp we run, we gain a broader sense of the world around us as we converse with students about their families, life experiences, and career aspirations. One of our proudest moments was during one of our camps in rural Texas. At the beginning of camp, a student told us he wanted to be a ninja when he grows up. At the end of camp, when we discussed future careers, he enthusiastically proclaimed how he had changed his mind; instead of being a ninja, he now wanted to be a ninja video game designer when he grew up.
CTWC is now a platform that acts as an agent of change in our community. We have capitalized on our advantages and learned how to maximize our potential for others. Coding is interesting, because when a student has a computer, creativity, and drive, the playing field is leveled, and their potential to learn and grow is only limited by their choices. Sometimes a positive introduction to a subject is all that a young mind needs to pave their future.
We’d love to hear a story of resilience from your journey.
Before the coronavirus pandemic, running a coding camp was vastly simplified, as there were almost no technical difficulties and plenty of one-on-one instruction. It was easier to communicate with our students to develop different codes for robots. Thus, facilitating our mission to impart STEAM education to today’s youth was less challenging. Once the pandemic hit, we had to come up with a new game plan and completely restructure our organization. We rethought and reorganized how we could still run camps, and as we pursued online camps, we soon discovered that virtual learning presented its own set of challenges. Difficulty communicating with the organizations we partner with, audio and video systems not working, and students having to share computers were just a few of the problems we encountered. It took some time to get the correct plan down, however, and we learned a great deal about how to be more engaging and patient with the kids as we were all on the learning curve together. We figured out that having our curriculum not be reliant on previous lessons allowed us to not have students fall behind if they missed a day of camp. We learned that communicating with the kids to make sure they aren’t falling behind as we talk them through the code via screen share on Zoom is more important than ever. After every camp, we debrief to see how we can reduce the extraneous tech issues that impede a positive and stress-free learning environment. We incorporate our solutions, such as having multiple counselors per breakout room and having a small ratio of counselors to students, into our subsequent lessons.
We often hear about learning lessons – but just as important is unlearning lessons. Have you ever had to unlearn a lesson?
One lesson we had to unlearn was that empirically testing understanding is the best and only measure of success. Our school system tends to accentuate the idea that earning good grades is the “best” path to success– it’s how we get into college, how we get into grad school, and how we get a job upon completing our education. However, grades and scores don’t always hold up, and a number attached to your name is not the one and only stamp of accomplishment. In our last camp, we issued a pre-test and post-test to our students to see how their understanding of STEAM and coding through VEX would improve. We were a little disappointed to see that the results didn’t denote the success we had hoped for. But, we quickly realized how many confounding variables could have changed our results. Having our students learn online, not having the same students with the same counselors every time, and not having the same kids take the test before and after due to sporadic attendance in their after-school program were all factors that impacted the outcome significantly. We realized how successful we reigned through the kids telling us how much they enjoyed the activities. One student exclaimed how cool his castle destroying game that he coded was and how much he wished we were there so he could show us. Little comments like those and the smiles on the students’ faces as they watched their code run for the first time made our outreach seem so worth it and has continued to make us more excited for all the success to come.
- Website: www.crackingthewondercode.org
- Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/ctwctx/
- Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/ctwctx/
- Youtube: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCvbMJmy68_kxkqxlMsq6BsQ