From teacher to engineer in 8 days: How these educators joined a hackathon

What 21st century skills do students need to be ready for the 65 percent of jobs yet to be invented?

The mission of Hacking STEM team is to “Modernize STEM education for every student on the planet to achieve more.” The team embarked on this mission almost two years ago. In the last two years the Hacking STEM team has a published portfolio of lesson plans that celebrate scientific phenomena in an authentic, real-world context. Committed to the growth of both students and teachers, Hacking STEM also provides professional development for teachers. The Hacking STEM professional development program engages teachers in a project-based, collaborative learning environment. During the workshop, teachers become students and proceed through the Hacking STEM lessons engaging in scientific inquiry and engineering design. Science, engineering, and math concepts are brought to life with live Excel data visualized from scientific instruments constructed by participants from everyday materials

In July 2018, the Hacking STEM team set out to answer this question: With a few new skills, some good mentoring and a lot of passion, can teachers grow in confidence and competence and become hackers in eight days?

To find out, 107 English, Math, and Science and STEM educators from the United Arab Emirates, Davis, Utah, and other parts of the world came to Microsoft’s Redmond campus. They participated in a five-day, intensive professional development workshop. Educators engaged in Hacking STEM projects and learned how to use 21st-century-facing technology tools in their classrooms: 3D and immersive technologies, Learning Tools, Teams, Microsoft Forms, Skype in the Classroom, Minecraft: Education Edition and MakeCode. As one teacher put it, “My estimation of Microsoft has gone woohoo through the roof!”

After the workshop, 54 of the 107 teachers joined the 2018 Microsoft OneWeek Hackathon. Their goal: develop 21st-century lesson plans and projects for their classrooms.

To support teachers, the Hacking STEM team put out a call for Microsoft employee volunteers. The team hoped for 10 and were blown away at kick-off when 136 Microsoft employees volunteered to hack with the teachers. While Microsoft employees were introduced to the engineering behind Hacking STEM, teachers self-organized into teams around lesson questions for their classrooms. Teachers pitched their lesson ideas to Microsoft employees, and with a little bit of match-making support, 13 teams were ready to hack.

And hack they did! After three truly intensive days of exploring questions, building devices and writing lessons, teams submitted 13 hands-on, democratized STEM lesson plans. These hands-on activities encourage students to explore scientific phenomena and solve real-world problems. Plus, the Hacking STEM team had a definitive answer to their question: Teachers make great hackers!

The energy, enthusiasm and camaraderie among the teams while they were co-developing lessons was incredible. It was amazing to see how much the teams accomplished in such a short amount of time and how far the teachers had come. In the words of one of the teachers, “I came as a teacher, got trained to become an engineer, and am leaving as a hacker.” It was also remarkable to see how Microsoft employees connected with and contributed to our mission of “enabling every student on the planet to achieve more.”

During the 2018-19 academic year, the Hacking STEM team will offer professional development in the United States and around the world. Join the Hacking STEM Educators Group on LinkedIn and follow @HackingSTEM on Facebook and @Hacking_STEM on Twitter to engage with a thriving community of STEM educators and to learn about the next professional development offering.