High school students in Phoenix, Arizona used virtual reality to create Halo VR, a system that allows young hospital patients to virtually visit with their families and friends, anytime and anywhere. Middle school students in Bristol, Pennsylvania used a computer-aided-design tool, TinkerCad, to create a 3D model of a gender-neutral, LGBTQ-friendly restroom for their school. Middle school students in Las Cruces, New Mexico developed a robot that identifies and collects litter on the streets of their community.
The Verizon Innovative Learning program for high schoolers trains educators throughout the country to teach design-thinking, innovation, entrepreneurship and STEM skills by collaborating with local businesses to solve real-world challenges through emerging technology.
Four years ago, Arizona State University joined forces with Verizon Innovative Learning, the education initiative of Verizon, to increase access to technology for under-resourced schools, an alliance that turned students’ creations into reality. The pursuit began with four U.S. high schools, a grant from Verizon, ASU’s expertise in entrepreneurship and innovation, and a shared vision of bridging the digital divide.
Since then, that shared vision has grown into a multi-year endeavor, thanks to a newly awarded grant from the Verizon Foundation, which will allow the program to expand to over 300 under-resourced middle schools from across the country.
“ASU and Verizon share a like-minded vision of what the future can be and what social access and equity look like,” says Ji Mi Choi, ASU associate vice president for entrepreneurship and innovation. “What started off as a pilot project with just four schools in 2014 has now grown to a national project with an investment from Verizon through ASU.”
“Through this work, we try to equip students with the tools and knowledge necessary to become creators, not just consumers, of technology” says Katie Clemens, ASU director of youth entrepreneurship. “Over the past few years, we’ve seen students create everything from an app that helps undocumented students navigate scholarship opportunities to a virtual reality system that provides patients in hospitals with the ability to visit family and friends anytime.”
The new grant will build on the original program but will include middle schools, not just high schools, throughout the United States. “Verizon proposed reaching out to students earlier while they were in middle school,” explains Choi. “So, they piloted a middle school program starting with just two schools.”
Middle schools in the program will have access to a virtual course that will lead students through the process of harnessing emerging technology, like virtual reality and artificial intelligence, and the design thinking process to create solutions for societal challenge.
Verizon will be providing students with access to the latest technology while ASU will be implementing the programs by providing training and curriculum for teachers through a blended learning approach.
“Middle school is a time when students usually become disengaged, whether it’s hormones, what’s going on in their lives or their parents taking a step back,” says Justina Nixon-Saintil, director of corporate social responsibility at Verizon. “When you consider under-resourced students, we felt that we could make a difference in middle school, and teach them how to be creative, how to collaborate and help them develop the skills that will be integral to their success both today and in the increasingly tech-driven economy of tomorrow.”
“This is a collaborative relationship that has really grown over the last four years,” says Choi. “We’re so pleased to be supporting Verizon in this shared mission. We’re grateful that Verizon has this vision and that they trust us to make the vision come to life.”