For the past three years, I was lucky enough to be part of an organization that brandishes a new approach to education. I had the opportunity to work as tutor in a low-income community, my very own.
MESA, as its called, stands for Math, Engineering, Science and Achievement. The MESA program seeks to do the same thing that dozens of other clubs have tried before; bridge the gap between students hoping to learn the maths and sciences and the jobs of the future (e.g. jobs in engineering, math, physics, and the technology sector).
Being a part of it made me realize, MESA was something different. What I feel made it stand apart from the rest of the after-school science oriented clubs was the interactive attitude which it encouraged. MESA did many things right.
For starters, the tutors and advising staff which implemented the curriculum were all chosen for their background in the maths and sciences. I myself had a computer science background.
Furthermore, the curriculum was not based on testing or packet-reading. Rather, information was disseminated by way of hands-on projects which students voluntary chose and put to the test; competing against their friends and students from other schools, districts, and even other states.
Prof Cartwright, made mention in class of a UCSD professor who utilized embodied physics as his method of teaching. That embodiment, with its visual and physical attributes, I believe, makes a concept extremely relevant and thereby easier to grasp. When dealing with concepts such as fluid dynamics, computer programming, newton’s laws of physics and other such concepts, things can get quite dense. MESA found the solution, just as the physics professor had.
One of the most exciting competition is the robotics competition. In this students are given a LEGO NXT robot and put to the task in a simulated scenario. For instance, last year’s scenario was a search and rescue mission where students, by way of their robots, were to transport medical supplies to strategic points in a course all the while traversing around designated “disaster zones” (obstacles and such). The year before that the competition involved a Mars Rover (“Curiosity”) -like scenario and students were to program their robots accordingly. Of course robots, now also have the capability of being remotely controlled if needed. Over the years as the program and technology alike have progressed, so have the standards we set forth for our kids. High School students are now expected to build their own robots as well as program them.
MESA involves students in ways that truthfully regular schools just don’t anymore. In fact, MESA is so involved that we follow students along the journey from middle school through high school, college applications, financial aid, into college programs, internships and futures. MESA is indeed an immersive program that goes above and beyond.
There are of course other projects than robotics. For instance there is a competition devoted to the manufacturing of a prosthetic limb which must accomplish a set of tasks which include fine and gross motor skills. This prosthetic limb must be produced under a budget and thus opens the arena for students to think about what it might be like to produce such a medical device for a world which is in need for low-income medical care.
There is much more beyond these projects. There is the commeraderie, the fun, the learning that is mixed together. The best part is that students are learning without hardly realizing that they are. They are the embodiment of research, constantly devising new methods and creating new elements to complete a task. This type of program is a waning thing, especially in modern times where we are so innundated with technology yet we are so overwhelmed that we know not what to do with the tools at hand. Such a program sparks the fire of an inventor. That which is more and more missing from us all.
So why this is all? Well because I believe such an approach is the embodiment of technicity. Students are given a set of tools, they are then encouraged to get to understand their tools, the physics, the math, the computer science behind them. Thereon, they devise a plan to solve the task they are charged with given the tools and information they now understand.
This concept isn’t novel in fact its as old as humans. Though frankly, the concept is a revolutitonary.
Pedro Jesus Diaz (Tues 1 pm)
To learn more about MESA visit mesa.ucop.edu or talk to me in class and I’d be glad to answer any questions. I strongly recommend this program for any and all your younger siblings, children, and family members. I know I will make sure to enroll my nephews and kids when the time comes.