Partnerships That Work in Celebrating Students

On Wednesday, August 10th, I was invited to speak to members of the Washington, DC Boys and Girls Clubs at the new Microsoft Innovation and Policy Center. This place definitely has what it takes to impress the DC crowd: an Xbox lounge, 8 foot touchscreens, and see-through touch displays straight out of the movies. Microsoft and the Edelman Agency mentored groups of kids to help them create games in Kodu, a graphical game programming environment for kids. How awesome is it that something like Kodu can start as a Microsoft Research project, get put on Xbox Live marketplace, and now be available for free on the PC! The very first thing I did was give the students, Rashida, Autumn, Pablo, Eric, and Fonseco, a standing ovation for their work. Having originally created their games for Capitol Hill Family Game Night, Microsoft and Edelman decided to give these students a private celebration.

I showed them games that my students have made, How to Get a Date with an Environmentalist, and Just In Time, a game about maternal health. Yes, you can make a game about pregnancy. My main point was that they need to be creators of technology instead of just users. I told them that the game design skills they were learning could lead them to careers as game designers, but also fashion designers, scientists, doctors, or even the next Bill Gates. I told them that in this current climate of smartphones and apps, they had the power to come up with a good idea and make loads of money on it, without leaving their computer. Sure did seem to sink in. But, to the surprise of everyone in attendance, when two boys were later asked what they want to be in the future, they said football and basketball players. But what do you expect from 11-year-old boys? Lebron James' life looks a lot glitzier than Bill Gates'. But I'd say that donating billions of dollars to charity, tackling the eradication of malaria and other diseases, and directly influencing millions of lives is pretty cool as well. Plus, Bill can use his leftover cash to hire Lebron as his personal trainer. In the words of my students: That's ballin'.

So what did I learn? First, academic achievements need to be celebrated as much as athletic achievements. It might be weird at first to hold a pep rally for a science fair, but that is exactly what has done for the First Robotics Competition. Second, if a kid wants to be rich and famous, meet them where their passion is, and show them that technology can get them there. Along the way, show them that they use their technology skills to solve the world's toughest problems.

In conclusion, I savor any chance to celebrate education. Special shout out to Amanda Moss and Brendan Daley for mentoring the kids. Amanda had never programmed or taught before and she really enjoyed the opportunity. Thanks to everyone at Microsoft, Edelman, and the Boys and Girls Club. This event was a model for how companies, non-profits, and educators can work together to improve education in and outside of school. Can't wait for the next time!