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Guest Article: Ignited Fellowships, Transforming Education
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Marisa Brown, an Oakland teacher, worked at a Stanford lab. Her graduate student mentor was a great guide and helped Brown develop her scientific ideas. As with many of our teachers, Brown said that the Fellowship increased her commitment to teaching. Over the summer, she developed a series of hands on activities for her high school biology classes that gave students a different way to question and take in information – more like real scientists do.

A fifth grade “at risk” girl with a history of behavior problems and poor academics, proven to be an out-of-the-box thinker excited about math and science. A high school student completely disinterested in and failing many of his classes, now excelling and leading group physics  activities. A class performing drop tests with accelerometers as a team of scientists and engineers, similar to the Reliability Engineering Team at Oculus.

What do these students have in common? Their teachers brought real-world STEM workplace learnings into their classrooms through the Ignited experience. Ignited is a nonprofit that believes the most effective way to influence education is through teachers, who have the unique ability to change the trajectory of their students’ lives. Ignited focuses on building teachers’ capacity to develop student‐driven, hands‐on learning experiences because they are both the best way to reduce the Achievement Gap and the most accurate reflection of workplace learning.

Just as it is critical for students to engage in real-world challenges as they learn, teachers, who have often only worked in school settings, need to experience corporate culture and real-world applications of skills in order to effectively prepare their students for future workplace challenges.

Our partners, leading STEM industry and research organizations from Google to Genentech, host Ignited Fellows on site and fund them to complete meaningful, partner-defined projects. Host mentors report benefiting from fresh perspectives and insights from seasoned professionals who provide quality work ethic. In one example, a Varian Product Support Engineer reported that his Fellow’s project “provided solid scientific data to support a change in maintenance procedures, saving our company more than $200,000 per year in labor costs.”

During their Fellowships, teachers incorporate learnings into relevant lessons that deeply engage students. For example, Keith, a Title I elementary school math teacher, who was placed as a Materials Engineer Fellow at Lockheed Martin. Over his summer, he developed a curriculum where students collected and visualized data for use in real-world math problems derived from his Fellowship. The new approach enabled Keith to “reach students that [he might] not have reached before.”

Nearly every teacher has rated their Ignited experience as some of the best professional development of their career, describing it as “transformative.” Keith wrote: “My Fellowship has changed my whole vision as a teacher. My goal for every lesson has become student-centered, relevant, and collaborative work, emphasizing critical thinking and challenging students to push their own thinking.”

Founded in 1985, Ignited has partnered with 400 companies, research institutions, and funders to provide 3,700 Fellowships to Bay Area teachers. Through this work, we have improved learning for over 3.2 million students, 40% from underserved and underrepresented communities.

Stories like the ones above are why Ignited exists. Ignited Fellows transform their teaching practice and their students’ futures, so that together, we prepare the next generation of innovators.

For more information, visit www.IgnitEducation.org or contact CEO Shari Liss, shari@igniteducation.org.