Meet the winners of the STEM Alliance - Dell PolicyHack™ Competition!

This year for the annual "Back to School" campaign, the STEM Alliance teamed up with Dell Technologies and invited teachers to participate in a truly unique and challenging competition. For the STEM Alliance - Dell PolicyHack™ Competition we called for teachers in Europe to submit STEM education challenges that they face on a local/regional level in their education practices and share recommendations on how ICT (Information and Communication Technologies) can help solve these.

 

Four brilliant teachers were invited to the STEM Alliance - Dell PolicyHack™ Finale taking place online on 27 November 2020 to present their inspiring and innovative ideas. While the jury had the final say, the audience also voted on their favourite idea. In both cases Selçuk Yusuf Arslan was chosen as the winner and Anita Simac as the runner-up of the competition!

Both pitches and ideas made a great impression on everyone involved in the STEM Alliance - Dell PolicyHack™ and we couldn't miss the opportunity to ask the winners about their inspiration, their hackathon experience and plans for future. Get inspired by this interview with outstanding and passionate teachers who shape the future of education!

  1. Tell us a bit about yourself - who are you, where do you live and teach, what are your interests?

    Selçuk: I am Selçuk Yusuf Arslan. I live in Ankara, the capital of Turkey. I am a computer science teacher at Ataturk Vocational and Technical High School and Doku Schools. I am one of the Scientix Ambassadors. Coding and STEM education are among my fields of study. I am also a PhD student at Hacettepe University Educational Leadership Programme. I am also studying STEM in my doctoral dissertation.

    Anita: My name is Anita Simac and I teach mathematics in Petra Preradovica school in Zadar, Croatia. The students I teach are from Year 5 to Year 8. As a Scientix ambassador I am very active in STEM projects and regularly organise workshops, training sessions and activities within the local community and wider. Outside school I have many interests from running and martial arts to travelling and music. With three children and too many pets to mention, I am always busy.

  2. What inspired you to participate in the STEM Alliance - Dell PolicyHack™ Competition?

    Selçuk: I love competing. I've previously received awards from competitions organized by Scientix and the STEM Alliance. As a teacher, I care about personal and professional development. In this way, we can be more useful to our students. Competitions are also good tools for our development. So I try to participate in competitions whenever I can. The STEM Alliance - Dell PolicyHack™ seemed like a perfect competition for me. As a computer science teacher, I was even more excited to find solutions to problems in the STEM field as it requires working with technology.


    Anita: The competition was a unique opportunity to submit an idea I have been trying to promote in my local community but it also represented a way for me to enhance my learning.

  3. Describe the idea you submitted to the STEM Alliance - Dell PolicyHack™ Competition.

    Selçuk: In this competition, I claimed that STEM education focused more on academic skills and therefore social-emotional skills were ignored. While it was difficult to gain social-emotional skills even in face-to-face STEM education, this became even more difficult during the pandemic period. I participated in this competition with the idea that we can produce solutions to this problem with technology.

    Anita: My idea was to present the idea of a Lifelong learning hub for the local community. A meaningful, educational, technological and productive, open for all learning environment that is missing in many schools.
    There is also a fear of technology, its capabilities and speedy advancement. These are the challenges we face in our local community. Fear stops us from growing and learning. My recommendation would be to encourage the development and usage of spaces, situated in schools and yet open for public use during after school hours. There to explore local problems and issues and find solutions with the help of technology. These physical spaces would inspire learning, they would be flexible, warm and inviting.

  4. How did you come up with this idea?


    Selçuk: This idea came up during the data collection phase for this competition. I've done a literature review first. Then I interviewed 16 teachers/academics and learned about the problems in STEM education. Among these problems, there were difficulties in acquiring social-emotional skills. I thought it was important to solve this issue, and I started working in this direction. Especially during the hackathon sessions, the idea caught the attention of the entire group and we have developed this idea further combining different perspectives.

    Anita: During the first COVID-19 outbreak, it became evident that our students were not prepared for online learning. Not only the children but my colleagues as well. The new situation that was thrust upon us was so stressful and challenging. I realised that support was needed but there was no time and no facilities.
    There is a huge need for community awareness and openness to all the positive aspects of technology. This should include an environment in which training and learning is available for all. Not only the young. This means not only a physical space filled with technology but an environment that is inviting and community-oriented. All of these thoughts were at the forefront of my mind during the first COVID-19 outbreak.

  5. How can your idea improve ICT and STEM education?

    Selçuk: It is stated in many reports that the business world will need more social-emotional skills in the future. There is also a lack of workforce in the STEM field all over the world. Therefore, supporting social-emotional skills while providing STEM education will help students find more qualified jobs.

    Anita: The Lifelong learning hubs would serve to educate our pupils, colleagues and anyone within the community. There would be workshops and webinars dedicated to teaching ICT skills and advocating STEM education.
    Schools need to incorporate emerging technologies into their classrooms thus enabling innovative, motivating and engaging learning experiences.
    The plan I envisioned involves a wide-ranging choice of workshops and activities. They would be provided by experts both virtually and hands-on. There would also be a program of mentorship among children and senior citizens. Learning should be a two-way street with cooperation and collaboration.
    Computer literacy (including 3D printing, Tinkercad workshops, cooperation with FabLabs), developing transversal skills, media and communication, media literacy and even sustainable development. The possibilities and needs are boundless.
     
  6. How will you follow up on your idea?

    Selçuk: I don't think distance education will come out of our lives after the pandemic. For this reason, it will be important to support the social-emotional skills of students in distance education. I'm thinking of starting a social enterprise for this purpose. In this way, I can turn my idea into action.

    Anita: I intend to continue working closely with the Ministry of Education and CARNET (the Croatian Academic and Research Network) in the development of this hub within our school. The plan is for the hub to be opened by the end of the school year.

  7. What was the biggest challenge during the STEM Alliance - Dell PolicyHack™ Finale?

    Selçuk: Although it is believed that 5-6 minutes in hackathons is enough to present an idea, it is a little more difficult when organized online. I tried to prepare a presentation with animations to impress the participants and the jury. But I had a little difficulty about moving the presentation, and that made me waste some time. I feel lucky to complete the presentation before the time ends. I didn't face another challenge. Everything has been thought through to the smallest detail which resulted in an excellent online event.

    Anita: The biggest challenge was presenting my idea in the allocated time and also convincing the panel and attendees that my idea was worthy of their support. Having an idea is just the beginning, it is important to be able to put forward your points, arguments and visions in a compelling way.

  8. Is there something you would like to share with other teachers and educators?

    Selçuk: We can help our students achieve a better career with STEM education. Different challenges can be faced in STEM education by teachers in all countries. It's up to us as teachers to solve these problems. By participating in STEM trainings and competitions, sharing best practices, and using teacher networks effectively, we can offer STEM education of higher quality.

    Anita: Schools need to incorporate emerging technologies into their classrooms thus enabling innovative, motivating and engaging learning experiences. Initiatives such as the STEM Alliance Dell Policy Hack give teachers the opportunity to express their views, ideas and thoughts about these issues on a European level. They are thus able to reach a huge audience. Teachers are the backbone of the local community and as such need to be heard. Please take part in these initiatives and believe that you can make a huge difference.

Thank you Selçuk and Anita for sharing your thoughts with us!