In early January I stood in front of a group of thirty curious teenagers with a big question: How might we reduce carbon emissions while increasing community resilience in the Bay Area?
Thirty pairs of eyes stared back, dumbfounded. “What are carbon emissions?” someone asked. Our journey had begun.
At ChangeX Education, we know teens are capable of creating tremendous impact in the world, but that they often struggle to access the resources and opportunities necessary to meet their potential. This is why we ran The Resilience Challenge, a 9-week social impact competition for San Francisco Bay Area teenagers (and curriculum pilot for the ChangeX platform). From January through March, our group met on Saturdays at the San Francisco Public Library’s new teen center The Mix to learn about civic innovation, design thinking, and what it takes to bring a great idea to life. Imagine a startup accelerator for teens with the mission of engaging the next generation in the fight against climate change using 21st century technologies.
Applications for the program opened in fall of 2015 with the purpose of identifying teens with an interest in service and social impact. We were blown away by the passion shared in the submissions – I couldn’t wait to meet these young people.
The Kickoff Party
Once our participants were selected, everyone was invited to a Kickoff Party hosted by our partners at The Mix. The event included music, food, tech workshops, and – of course – an introduction to the Challenge. Desi Matel Anderson from the Field Innovation Team skyped in to talk about the impact of climate change on natural disasters and share stories of how her team is using tech to improve emergency response systems. By the end of the evening participants had formed teams and were preparing for week one of the challenge.
The Online Portal
For the next nine weeks we would meet weekly at The Mix on Saturdays to dig into the Challenge. Because some participants lived far away, however, these meetings were optional. The bulk of instruction during The Resilience Challenge was delivered digitally through a tool we built called the STEAM directory.
The Player Portal on the STEAM directory was homebase for our Challenge. It included over 100 “tasks” that participants could complete to earn points. Teams submitted photo evidence of task completion which earned them points on our leaderboard. Prizes were awarded throughout the Challenge for earning points in different categories. These points also figured into the final score of each team – along with judge scores – to determine our winner (but we’ll get to that later).
Participants used the Portal to:
1. Receive Announcements
The Portal was our primary communication tool throughout the Challenge. Prizes, updates and special opportunities were posted here.
2. Search Tasks
Tasks were organized into four categories and could be searched by a variety of tags, including time to complete:
- “Share” tasks focus on visual design, art and storytelling
- “Build” tasks focuses on fabrication, microelectronics and construction
- “Code” tasks focus on programming
- “Research” tasks focus on the human centered design process
All of this skill development was designed to support teams in developing innovative solutions to the Challenge. Human centered design tasks were posted to the portal each week to guide teams through the process, which is heavily focused on rapid prototyping and user testing. The technical skill building opportunities featured on the portal were selected to assist participants in creating more informed and productive prototypes. These included everything from Codecademy courses and product tutorials to local meetups at the library.
The relationship between tasks and possible pathways for skill advancement were also available in the form of a visual map:
3. Earn Points
Participants used our online submission form to submit proof of completion for each task. These submissions were publicly available to all participants, as was the leaderboard.
Each week of the Challenge was organized around a phase of the design process:
Week 0: Prep Week
During Prep Week participants planned logistics with their teams and began researching the Challenge. Here were the week’s tasks:
Participants shared their research around the issue of carbon emissions during our first Saturday meetup:
Week 1: Understand
Week 1 of the Challenge was all about understanding and empathy. Tasks included conducting user interviews, expert interviews, research and activities like card sorting and surveys to more deeply understand how carbon emissions impact the Bay Area.
We also introduced our first prize of the Challenge to the participants who completed earned the most points that week.
Week 2: Understand & Define
For week 2 we transitioned into analyzing our research findings. Tasks included creating empathy maps and personas.
Week 3: Define & Ideate
For week we learned about leading practices for brainstorming and begin to imagine solutions to the Challenge.
Weeks 4-6: Prototype & Test
For weeks 4-6 we dug into prototyping and user testing. Each team was required to create and test at least two prototypes, submitting the following for each:
Weeks 7-8: Sharing Your Idea
Our final weeks were dedicated to fine-tuning prototypes and learning to pitch and tell the story of the teams’ ideas. Participants created posters and crafted and practiced 5-minute pitches in preparation for our Final Exhibition.
The Public Exhibition
The Resilience Challenge concluded with a Public Exhibition and Pitch event hosted at the Koret Auditorium. The evening began with a poster session followed by presentations. Each of our four final teams presented a 5-minute pitch to our panel of judges. Winners were chosen based on a combination of judge scores and points earned throughout the Challenge.
Our four final teams were:
C02 Destroyer, a climate change game for elementary school students.
A piezoelectric footsole that can be used to charge your phone.
Solar Charger Kit, a microelectronics kit that teaches about climate change and resilience.
Me>Meat, an app to help you eat foods with lower carbon footprints.
Our fantastic judges included:
To learn about the next steps for The Resilience Challenge, check out ChangeX – a tool designed to help educators and companies roll out this experience for students everywhere!