September 1, 2003
In 1998, NYC FIRST! began an effort to engage New York City high schools in the FIRST experience. FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology) is a national organization whose mission is to design accessible, innovative programs that help young people build self-confidence, knowledge and life skills while motivating them to pursue opportunities in math, science and technology careers. Four schools were involved in NYCFIRST!'s first year. By the 2003 competition season, there were 26 teams based at New York City high schools and 82 New York City middle schools participating in FIRST-related activities.
A major goal of NYC FIRST! is to engage low-income and minority students in science, technology, and engineering, especially in schools where resources and curriculum around these subjects might be limited. In addition to providing day-to-day support and technical assistance to teams, NYC FIRST! established an annual regional tournament in New York City.
In the fall of 2002, NYC FIRST! engaged CCT to conduct a preliminary evaluation study of the initiative. For this study, which focused on five high schools, we conducted interviews with a range of stakeholders and observations of FIRST activities, all designed to investigate the following aspects of NYC FIRST!:
- Impact on students' attitudes and skills
- Influence on school curricula and on teachers' pedagogy
- Role in developing working relationships between teams, schools, and sponsors
- Effect on corporate partnerships and relationships to the outside community
- Implementation approaches of the schools
In this report, we present the findings of the study and discuss their implications for program development and further research.
Our findings fell into several categories:
- Program implementation, particularly patterns of recruitment and participation, and the roles of coaches and mentors
- Impact on students
- Impact on schools
- Impact on relationships with corporate sponsors and the outside community
- Teams are similar in their goals, but vary in implementation depending on the goals and objectives of the school, the approach of the coach, and the interests of the students.
- Schools cast a wide net in their efforts to recruit students to the teams.
- Students participate in NYC FIRST! for a wide range of reasons, from social to academic to work-related.
- Coaches see themselves as facilitators, supporting students in driving the work of the team.
- Coaches are extraordinarily dedicated to their teams, often volunteering many hours of their time.
- Mentors often contribute large amounts of time, as well.
- Mentors often work with students beyond team activities, helping with such things as homework assignments and college applications.
Impact on students
NYC FIRST! participation has a positive impact on students in three key areas: student engagement, building knowledge and skills, and developing community values.
NYC FIRST! promotes a high level of engagement among participants, and thiswhich can raise their engagement in school overall. Several factors appear to contribute to students' engagement:
- Students pursue activities that are interesting to them.
- The program offers opportunities for students of diverse talents and backgrounds to make meaningful contributions to the team effort and to learn new skills.
- NYC FIRST! promotes a strong sense of responsibility among teammates.
- Learning is practical and self-motivated; students rarely seemed to be focused on learning for its own sake, but, instead, were motivated by the desire to complete the task at hand.
- Learning is largely hands-on and experiential.
- Coaches encourage team members to take on leadership roles.
Building knowledge and skills
NYC FIRST! participants develop knowledge and skills in a range of specific content areas, including:
- engineering and design;
- computer programming;
- graphic design;
- webpage development;
- marketing and public relations; and
- NYC FIRST! participants also develop and come to value a range of critical thinking and interpersonal skills, regardless of their roles on the team. And,
- Participation helps students develop a sense of self-confidence and self-worth.
Developing community values
NYC FIRST! promotes a set of values that include community service, mutual respect, and "gracious professionalism," and emphasizes that the competition itself is only a part of the NYC FIRST! experience.
Impact on schools
In examining the impact of NYC FIRST! on schools, we focused on three primary areas: schools' relationships to the community, science and technology in school curricula, and teachers' pedagogy.
NYC FIRST! increased the visibility and the positive image of schools through media coverage and teams' public appearances, community service activities, and sponsorship relationships with local companies.
- NYC FIRST! helped improve the schools' images among their own students and teachers.
- NYC FIRST! has had an influence on school curricula in both direct and indirect ways, including:
- the establishment of robotics curriculum;
- development of proposals for the creation of small schools with a focus on technology and robotics;
- and adoption and implementation of pre-engineering curriculum.
NYC FIRST! provides corporate sponsors with valuable opportunities to contribute to workforce development and community support by
- Enabling employees to share as mentors their skills and expertise with young people and by by serving as mentors
- Cultivating potential future employees of diverse backgrounds.
Sponsors also feel a strong personal connection to the program and believe that NYC FIRST! offers students a good introduction to the real world of technology and engineering.
Our recommendations focus on building infrastructure within schools to increase support for the teams and promote connections with curriculum, and the development of additional resources for schools, teams, and coaches.
Recommendations for schools
- Assign a high-level administrator to act as liaison to the team.
- Engage more school personnel in taking primary responsibility for the teams to alleviate some of the stress on coaches and ensure year-to-year continuity for the teams.
- Help classroom teachers make connections to the work of the NYC FIRST!
Recommendations for the NYC FIRST! program
- Provide training for coaches in areas related to building and facilitating a team, such as recruiting and supporting diverse students, managing conflict, and managing time.
- Provide training for staff who are not acting as primary coaches, or who are facilitating a particular area of a team's work to introduce them to the program.
- Develop additional resources for coaches, including online documents providing guidance and tips for dealing with some of the challenges.
- Conduct a sponsors forum as an efficient way to interest potential sponsors in the program.
For further research
There are several questions not answered by this study that may be worth exploring.
- What are the longer-term impacts of NYC FIRST! participation?
- Are there anyre barriers to participation within the schools, other than lack of time or interest?
- How can schools maximize the instructional impact of FIRST?
- How can schools create an infrastructure for FIRST that promotes curriculum connections and team continuity and reduces some of the stress that coaches experience?
- What motivates coaches' extraordinary dedication to their teams?
- What is the impact doesof coaches' roles in the schools haves on NYC FIRST! teams?