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Post-wow pathways (or how you can help the next generation of tech kids)

Post-wow pathways (or how you can help the next generation of tech kids)

Vaughan Rowsell of Vend writes about running a not for profit as a startup, and making a difference beyond ICT.

Vaughan Rowsell

Vaughan Rowsell

We had thousands of kids lining up to come to our events. But we quickly realised that just a show, a single event to wow them was not enough.

We founded a cool wee startup called OMGTech! three years ago to make a difference, not a profit.

We want to reach as many kids we can in New Zealand to get them inspired and on a pathway to innovating with technology. It’s certain our future will be technology-driven.

We have crossed the threshold into the tech driven world and the scary reality is that if we don’t know how to use technology, or at best just be consumers of it, then we are going to be left behind, individually and as a nation.

We started off with a simple hypothesis that if we just gave kids access to technology, and showed them how it worked, then they would just run with it.

We also knew that the 10-year olds today would be using very different technology in another 10 years when they are “grown up” so just teaching them coding was a good start but it wouldn’t be enough.

So we picked the most accessible (and some inaccessible) future technologies like robotics, 3D printing, drones, VR & AR and created fun workshops that use these technologies.

We run OMGTech! like a startup, with no money, moving fast and testing everything as we go to find what works. So we had to find a way to test that this worked or we would have a bunch of expensive tech sitting around with no kids. You first test product market fit, and to our relief we validated that almost instantly.

Eight to 12 year olds gravitate to technology and want to know how it all works. We had thousands of kids lining up to come to our events. But we quickly realised that just a show, a single event to wow them was not enough.

The wow was almost too easy. The demand was clearly there with thousands of kids all across New Zealand.

However the hard bit was creating the pathways for these kids post-wow so they could go home and keep going with robotics, or 3D design or game programming. Otherwise you are doing nothing more than just entertaining them with a show.

The hard bit was creating the pathways for these kids so they could go home and keep going with robotics, or 3D design or game programming. Otherwise you are doing nothing more than just entertaining them with a show.

These post-wow pathways are critical. Every kid has a different journey to be able to participate in our digital future, it’s like crossing a river. I love analogies, so consider this your terrible analogy warning.

For the kids all the way upstream where the river is narrow, they can just jump across it. For kids a bit further downstream, they need a plank to get over.

Further down however, a lot of our kids need many more planks to cross the river. If you are a kid from a low income home, following a passion for technology is near impossible. There are a few planks you need to lay. If that kid is a girl, another plank.

If home is outside of Auckland or Wellington, another. And if she is Maori or Pasifika, more planks. So we have been busy identifying all the planks we can help lay to get every kid across the river to our digital future. I think that analogy works?

Recently we were asked to be part of Techweek - the one week showcase of what’s going on in New Zealand tech. It was a crazy busy week all across New Zealand and we were busy “laying planks”.

One of our big planks is to work with our hard working educators, to demystify technology and enable them to teach it in the classroom themselves. We have been working with many schools around New Zealand on ways to teach technology to make it fun and engaging in the classroom.

Partnering with Manaiakalani and Core Education we ran digital technologies training sessions for teachers representing different schools in Auckland and Dunedin.

A lot of technology isn’t rocket science, not even the rocket science so we covered that off too. We partnered with Rocket Lab and the New Zealand Space Agency to run an in-classroom education live-stream where we streamed interviews with Kiwi space pioneers working in the industry to more than 4,000 kids live in their classrooms, and then teaching them how to make and launch their own bottle rockets.

Some rockets exploded, there was much baking soda everywhere, and many rockets landing on school roofs up and down the nation. It was awesome.  

We run OMGTech! like a startup, with no money, moving fast and testing everything as we go to find what works

Next plank is outside of the classroom. It’s important to work with our community groups who are on the ground working with our youth too so we did a few things here, there and well, everywhere.

We ran a technology workshop for intermediate and teenage pasifika youth in Porirua partnering with the Ministry for Pacific Peoples and NZQA with the awesome help of volunteers from Spark, Xero, Revera and Plaint software testing.

We ran a session with the a group of rangatahi who have become disengaged with mainstream education at Porirua Alternative School.

We ran hands-on activations at the Digital Moana Forums with the Ministry for Pacific Peoples and at the southtechweek18-XLR8 event in Auckland. We showcased our Māori community engagement programme, e-Pou, at the Māori technology showcase in the waikato with Te Puni Kōkiri and we launched a year long Māori Game design course in Ngaruawahia High school and Te Wharekura o Rakaumanga in Huntly.

Our leaders in community and industry are another important plank, and so with the help of WeCreate we spoke at and facilitated two sessions at the Createch conference in both Auckland and Wellington to support education technology and creativity.

We partnered with Microsoft and ran a robotics workshops for digigirlz, an event focused on getting more high school girls into tech. And to wrap up a frantic week we ran a two-day event teaching coding and robotics at MOTAT with half the attendees being supported for free to attend from low decile schools.

It was a crazy busy but also crazy awesome. We helped more than 5,000 kids in one week.

But I hope you will notice something, a few words that stand out about everything that went on during Techweek. Phrases like “We partnered” or “With the help of”. We didn’t do it. You all did, every partner, volunteer, teacher, parent and leader out there who wants to make a difference and can see the opportunity ahead for our kids.

We just come up with the crazy ideas and bring you all together to supply the inspiration, the role models and the elbow grease to carefully place the planks for the kids to run across. In one week those planks helped more than 5,000 kids and hundreds of educators all over Aotearoa.

But let’s not stop here, we need many more passionate people and organisations to help lay down the planks. If you are a leader, CIO, CTO or company owner in technology then these kids are your future, talk to us about how you can get involved in or fund one of our many programmes. Like our CTO Vivian Chandra says “You don’t really know tech, until you’ve explained it to a kid who’s never played with it before

So to you all, we thank you. What a difference we all make together.

Vivian Chandra at an OMGTech! workshop
Vivian Chandra at an OMGTech! workshop

Vaughan Rowsell is the co-founder of OMGTech! as well as the founder of Vend and the vice-chair of the Hi-Tech awards. OMGTech! is a charitable initiative founded and run by Zoe Timbrell and Vaughan Rowsell with the goal to enable every Kiwi kid to a future innovating with technology. They are supported by many amazing organisations around New Zealand like Spark, Microsoft, the ministries of Education, Youth and Māori and Pacific Peoples, and hundreds of corporate and private volunteers from all over New Zealand . They reckon that together we can all make a pretty cool future for our kids and would like your help too.

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Tags leadershipdiversitycareergeneration yroboticsmillennialsxeromentoring3d printingdigital divideReveradronesVaughan RowsellGeneration ZinclusionVivian ChandraOMGTechTechWeek 2018Ministry of Pacific PeoplePlaintNZQA SparkVR & AR

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