Three Years, 15 Youth Programs, Hundreds of “Ah-Ha” Moments

Robert likes worms

Thursday, February 12th marks the three year anniversary of my work leading the Digital Learning efforts at the California Academy of Sciences. It's been an incredible ride so far.

I've been fortunate enough to work with an amazing team of educators, tech experts, and scientists at the Cal Academy, starting with my first manager Puja Dasari, the always inspiring dean of education and chief public engagement officer Elizabeth Babcock, my wonderfully supportive current supervisor Katie Levedahl,  my Digital Learning co-conspirators Christine Wilkinson and Jeff Dam, and many more awesome people at the Academy. 

And of course our amazing teens. Over the past three years, I've planned and implemented 15 different youth programs where I have had the pleasure of working with hundreds of amazing young people. It's been a blast helping our kids learn to make space shows, design computer games, go on digital scavenger hunts in the woods, design environmental social media campaigns, create a video series on food science, and more. 

Me in the first couple months at the  Academy with my first group of teens

Working with teens has so many challenges and rewards. One of my favorite things to witness is the "ah-ha" moment of self-discovery as a young person learns a new skill, discovers a cool species that she knew nothing about before, successfully leads an activity with his peers, or creates something awesome with a team of kids she just met. It never gets old.

I also love seeing our teens in "the zone," where they are so engaged and focused on the task at hand that they forget the passage of time.  The test for that is when I announce that they have "three more minutes" to work on something and whether they respond with silence (bad), groans (better), requests for more time (awesome), complaints that I'm being unreasonable (all the time.) That "flow state" of work is one of life's under-appreciated pleasures that every scientist and artist understands so well.

And of course, few things make me happier than that "stand and deliver" moment, when our teens get to show off their work to their peers, our staff, their families and the larger public. It's uniquely satisfying hearing a young person encapsulate in their own words what they learned and gained from the program you designed. Their eloquence and honesty never fails to move me.

I could go on and on… 

As I work with my Digital Learning and Youth Programs colleagues to chart the next phase in our growth, I feel nervous and excited about all the things we have planned. From launching our Digital Playshop series this February, to throwing our first Science Game Jam in April, to serving more teens at the main branch of the San Francisco public library this summer, we're experimenting and scaling in so many directions at once it's dizzying.

(Oh, and did I mention I'm going to the Philippines in April? I AM!)

I'm just so thankful that I get to do this work at such an amazing institution with an awesome team. Let's do this!

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