When I left the engineering world to begin teaching in the inner-city, my goal was to introduce my students to the endless possibilities and opportunities that exist outside of their community. Lennox Mathematics, Science, and Technology Academy is in a low-income area in the County of Los Angeles. One of the driving forces for everything that I have done as a teacher is to provide access and equity for my students’ education.
Fostering Student Confidence with ExploraVision
I want my students to believe that they have the power to impact the world in a positive way, regardless of their situation. I apply my background in engineering to teach my students about real-world problem solving through science and technology, in hopes of inspiring them to become innovators and give them a glimpse of a possible future career. This has taken the form of developing innovative lessons designed to encourage growth and resilience and in entering competitions to challenge my students’ perceptions of what they are capable of doing. When I learned about ExploraVision, I felt this would provide my students with a perfect opportunity to have them participate in a competition at the state and national level.
Getting my students started with their ExploraVision projects.
When we began with ExploraVision last year, many of my students were intimidated by the competition. From the projects we reviewed, they felt there was no possible way they could develop a competitive idea. The truth is that they were very capable, industrious, and had innovative ideas worth sharing. My job as the teacher was to create an experience for them using the ExploraVision competition as a foundation to guide my students out of this fixed mindset into one of growth. I would remind my students that we were doing this competition not to win – although winning is nice – but to see what they were capable of imagining and creating. And so we began our journey. As their only mentor, I worked with 30 students that year. They developed very interesting and creative ideas. Although we were not able to submit all the applications because many of my students are undocumented, they all valued the journey and experience.
Tailoring the ExploraVision Program for your Classroom
Hard work paid off for my students at this years’ ExploraVision competition.
Last year was a very exciting one for my students, thanks to ExploraVision. As a teacher, I was able to reflect and develop a more engaging lesson plan to encourage innovative thought and expression using design thinking as the anchor. I wanted my students to acquire the research, technical, and practical skills necessary to develop ideas by applying design principals. With a focus on empathy in design, my students developed meaningful projects that connected more closely to their community in Lennox. These projects ranged from decreasing light pollution, sound absorbing curtains, a new approach to baby monitors, a syringe redesign to reduce the amount of plastic used, all the way to an innovative approach for administering mammograms with sticker sensors. In their journey through the competition, students learned to be confident in their ideas, collaborate, grow together, and be a part of something bigger that stretched outside of Lennox. For two of my teams this year, it was very exciting that they received honorable mentions for their projects.
About the Author
Jose Rivas is a Physics and Engineering teacher at the Lennox Mathematics, Science, and Technology Academy. He began his career as an engineer but eventually decided to transition into teaching to give back to his community in inner-city Los Angeles. The ExploraVision program has given his students confidence in their ability to impact the world in a positive way.