HiTech, the Road to a STEM Career
Howard County Library System, Md.
HiTech, Howard County Library System’s STEM digital media lab for teens, delivers cutting-edge science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) education via hands-on video, music, game app, and e-book projects. Leveraging technology and experts, HiTech incorporates an innovative methodology that blends instruction with experiential learning and peer to peer communications.
As home to a number of major STEM-oriented employers and higher education institutions, Howard County is uniquely positioned to provide opportunities for students desiring to learn about careers and opportunities in science, technology, engineering, and math. The community surrounding the HiTech site has more than 3,000 youth of various economic, social, and ethnic backgrounds. Many are on free or reduced lunch and do not have digital resources available at home. High-school students from the neighboring area visit the Savage Branch each day after school and on weekends, and in the last decade, the area has seen a significant increase in use and demand. This increase is fueled by growth in both transient and non-transient populations due to the tremendous development of single and multi-family housing, and the multiple-year U.S. Army’s Base Realignment and Closure relocations. Youth who are connected to knowledgeable adults gain information and skills, and increase their access to community resources. HCLS recognizes the importance of orienting the youth in the community toward the skills needed to pursue these careers of the future. HiTech will be instrumental in enhancing technical knowledge, encouraging independent learning, and supporting youth in pursuing higher education opportunities and/or jobs close by.
Key Elements of Innovation
HiTech’s curriculum comprises four modules. The first three modules deliver guided, self-paced learning opportunities, while the fourth incorporates more structure. 1) Interact: Students experience music, video, computer games, and mobile apps by listening and playing. 2) Improvise: Students experiment in hands-on fashion with digital music, video equipment, and professional grade software. 3) Invent: Students learn specific STEM professional methodology and terminology in conjunction with products. 4) Instruct (Academy): Students complete three tracks over six months: (a) six interactive classes that teach skills within the disciplines, (b) site visits to STEM work environments, and (c) participation in a higher education STEM-based camp. The HiTech Academy will enable teens interested in pursuing higher education in the areas of science, technology, engineering, or mathematics to learn basic technology and engineering skills. Students will collaborate with other teens interested in similar subjects, and benefit from hands-on exposure to in-depth STEM educational opportunities. The Academy will immerse students in an educational journey that will include: Six interactive classes that cover foundational skills within the disciplines—taught by HCLS Instructors, HiTech partners, student mentors, and consultants on the following topics: 3D, CAD, and Animation; Python, PHP, and JAVA Programming; Cybersecurity; Innovative/Green Energy; Nanotechnology; and Robotics. Site visits to STEM work environments. Attendance at college-sponsored STEM camps. A HiTech Board of Advisors, comprising professionals from the school system, local colleges and universities, Maryland State Department of Education, game developers, cybersecurity firms, and engineering firms.
Since HiTech's launch, more than 2,000 students have participated in such classes as Robotics, Mobile Games, Nanotechnology, Technology of Fashion, and Sound Effects. Over the course of a six-week period, students created a mobile game, Escape! from Detention, which was released in January 2013 and has been downloaded 5,000 times in every continent (except Antarctica) to date. Students are also working on a Choose Civility e-book featuring their own stories and photos. HCLS has been certified as an Apple iOS Enterprise Developer and Google Certified Developer and been featured in articles in American Libraries, The Baltimore Sun, and The Business Monthly. HiTech Academy students who complete five of the six classes and fully participate in the site visits and camps will receive a HiTech Academy Certificate of Completion.