Empowering Youth Changemakers at SXSWedu

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Based on current trends in education, it is estimated that by 2020 there will be close to 1.2 million job openings in the US tech industry but only 400,000 people with the skills necessary to fill those positions. If we want to continue to grow a thriving technology industry in this country we need to reframe the way we approach technology education right now.

Think back to your childhood. Do you remember that kid in your class who had to know how everything worked? You know, the one with the Erector Set and broken electronics scattered throughout his room? He’s probably a successful engineer or CTO now. But what about the other kids? Not every child is going to have a desire to dismantle a microwave for the sheer love of electronics or code a website just to learn CSS. And that’s okay. That doesn’t mean, however, that he or she cannot be a great engineer or coder. That child may just need to have the problem framed differently.

One unexpected discovery we’ve come across with the City X Project is the tremendous difference a story can make in STEM learning. Not every student we work with is initially intrigued by the technologies we use but we found that by giving students a clear purpose for their learning – even if that purpose is solving the problem of a fictional character in an imaginary City X – they are socially motivated to engage. In developing our projects it is always important to me to shift the focus of conversation from the technology or skill we’re learning (“the means”) to the reason we’re learning it (“the end”). That’s why we approach STEM by talking about the changemaker mindset, putting the purpose before the tech.

Now, as always, innovation is the ticket to economic success. Standing on the shoulders of incredible organizations like Code For America, tomorrow’s technology leaders will succeed through purpose-driven innovation empowered by technological expertise. If we’re going to drastically increase the appeal of STEM education to students of all types we need to broaden our approach to “technology education” to include not only the “how” but the “why.” Not only the techies, but the social innovators. It’s time for us all to adopt a changemaker mindset.

City X Project Director Libby Falck will be giving a talk at SXSWedu Playground on Tuesday, March 4, at 10:30am. Visit SXSWedu for more information.

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