InnoWorks curricula are designed to maximize the development of problem-solving and analytical skills using methods developed with cutting-edge cognitive neuroscience and educational psychology research. Each one-week to two-week long InnoWorks program consists of three different types of activities: interactive presentations and mixed-team learning activities, team-building activities, and fast-paced competitive missions. Students work in teams of four with a college student mentors. Each theme, e.g., Extraterrestrial Excursions, begins with the students engaging in hands-on, sensory-based presentations and group activities. Since we design the missions for team competition, the group activities involved cooperative pairing between different teams to increase interactions among students. During the midday break, we provide free lunches and drinks to all participants, mentors, and staff. To develop strong friendships and trust, team-building activities such as capture the flag follow lunch.
In the afternoon, we brief everyone on the objectives and scoring rubrics for one or two missions. For each mission, we randomly select two teams to give a capstone, five-minute PowerPoint™ presentation of their approach and solution to their peers, staff, and mentors. The selected teams also discuss the reflective questions that accompany the mission. The goal of the presentations is to develop the students’ skills in communicating complex ideas to other people.
The missions challenge student teams to develop strategies for solving difficult problems, then actively implement and test their ideas. Missions are fast-paced and relatively specific in the task required of the students. Typical mission problems fall into one of the following categories: (1) follow instructions to set up a phenomenon and explain the physical basis for it as accurately as possible, (2) develop a plan to solve a problem given certain constraints (no actual implementation), or (3) use a given set of materials to solve a problem, which may require manipulating materials to discover some scientific results or engineering a final device/product. In missions that involve building, the emphasis is on creativity and resourcefulness rather than tedious construction.
Learning and Rewards
The desire to learn is intrinsic,9 but many students still resist the opportunity to learn new things. There is substantial support for the idea that students will naturally learn if they believe that the subject at hand matters in their lives.9,10-12 As such, InnoWorks begins each new topic with concrete experiences and applications so students can immediately relate the subject to personal experience. In addition, emotions are known to have a dramatic impact on learning.9 In the context of a classroom, fear and stress are likely to result from a discomfort with the power structure and interpersonal relationships with teachers and peers. Since all mentors, and primary staff members of InnoWorks are college students who have diverse interests, and all have a passion for working with kids, we believe that our program has a distinct advantage over other types of “science-camps” in that the students will likely feel less "threatened" by a staff that is composed of students like themselves. This expectation was borne out by the past three years of programs, where several students remarked how this aspect of the program enhanced their enjoyment of InnoWorks.13
In terms of motivation and pleasure, there are extrinsic rewards (e.g., prizes) and intrinsic rewards; the latter are intimately associated with the learning itself. InnoWorks provides plenty of extrinsic rewards such as trophies, memorabilia, and other prizes to motivate the youth to work hard and explore everything the program has to offer. We strongly emphasize teamwork, integrity, and dedication through special recognition and awards. Trophies are awarded to all participants who complete the program, and top-performing teams receiving special prizes to encourage all students to work collaboratively. To determine the top teams, points are given throughout the program for performance on competitive missions, group presentations, and reflective questions. Nevertheless, the program is founded on the belief that learning for its own sake (i.e., intrinsic motivation) can be encouraged and nurtured. Our premise is that an understanding of basic science and engineering gives people the freedom to pursue goals and discovery of uncharted realms; such experiences should contribute to providing InnoWorks students with enduring intrinsic motivation.