Our Year of Remote Learning

April 6, 2021

Since March 2020, our community has been disrupted by the ongoing effects of the pandemic. While we have adjusted and adapted to our new reality, we’ve witnessed how students have been and continue to be affected by the pivot to remote learning 

At NYC FIRST, we have the privilege to work with an incredible FIRST Community through our robotics leagues and directly through our network of STEM Centers through our hands on robotics courses.

As a response to the pandemic, like so many educators across the country, we were faced with the challenge of quickly adapting in person classes for remote learning. One of the greatest design challenges involved in this plan was retaining as much of our hands-on, project based curriculum as possible. 

The Beginning of Remote Learning: March 2020

As we began our journey of remote learning in March 2020, we witnessed our students struggle as they adjusted to the educational, social, and health challenges throughout the early stages of the pandemic. As our students took on a myriad of different roles at home, and within the virtual space, classes became shorter, attendance and participation stagnated at times. While we were still able to focus on the conceptual stages of the engineering design process , our classes became an important touchpoint to check in on each other. While the pandemic had physically separated us, our bonds as a class and team grew stronger. As educators, we faced the challenges of remote in the spring semester, but finished out with a strong year with a project showcase, as is traditional for our classes at the end of the year. Instead of developing physical prototypes, we focused on our concept development and communication, allowing students the freedom to become more creative with their solutions. 

Virtual Summer STEM Camp:

As we entered summer, we applied our virtual learnings to create our most engaging virtual summer camp. Throughout the planning stages, of the most valuable learnings we took into consideration was the need to retain a playful, hands-on experience as a means to engage and inspire exploration. Fortunately, we were able to create meaningful and engaging experiences through the support of our paid summer interns.  Our virtual summer camp allowed us to create engaging sessions for campers, but it also allowed us to empower our interns as leaders and experts as well as help them develop their professional skills. They were instrumental in helping us lead our camp sessions. 

To best support our collective vision for the camp, we designed, packaged, sanitized, and mailed engineering kits to each of our campers. These kits contained all the tools and materials to help our campers participate in all of our camp activities, as well as continue their learning afterwards. Some of our big hits were the prototyping materials we included, a 3D pen (so we could be our own 3D printers), and a MicroBit microcontroller! If there were a few things we learned from our experience running a virtual STEM summer camp, it was that embracing play through the kits was a successful way to engage campers. 

Remote Education Continued: Fall 2020 & Beyond

By the beginning of the fall semester we were eager to apply the things we learned during our first remote experiences in our spring semester and virtual summer camp to this school year. However, we quickly realized that in all of our classes, students were still overwhelmed adjusting to remote learning. Our students were not only remotely learning, but they were also taking care of their siblings, sharing a workspace family, trying to access a stable internet connection, as well as access to a dedicated device to work on. These were all large factors working against building a successful remote education experience. As a response to this, we made significant changes to our curriculum and dynamic in the classroom and continued to gather feedback from students. We would not be bested in our efforts to transition a hands-on class to a hands-off world! 

This feedback from students led us to develop extracurricular workshops and build sessions for our students and community. In these sessions, we focused on learning technical skills like 3D computer-aided design (CAD) modeling and programming. We also focused on developing holistic skills like project management, organizational skills and research. 

We have also expanded to offer more  professionally learning opportunities to help our students engage meaningfully with their community even while remote. A large group of students are now engaged in a collaboration with Makers for COVID-19, an organization that connects makers with communities in need of PPE equipment. Through this partnership, our students have developed connections with local groups in need of PPE, organized materials, fabricated, sanitized, packaged, and delivered PPE. We have also started another initiative, NYC FIRST Youth Council, aimed at bringing the diversity of our community voices to contribute to the success of  FIRST community. 

This past year has transformed how we engage and interact with our community. As a team, we continue to iterate our offerings to continue to support their changing needs. We’ve witnessed how this pandemic has affected our students, and our communities as a whole. However, our mission to give New York City’s youth the STEM education they need and deserve has not wavered. We will continue to listen to our community to provide the best resources and support for our community as possible, and hope you will all join us in our efforts to spread help, generosity, and love to those around you.