Learning can veer into countless directions and exciting terrains.
Afterschool provides that space, not only throughout Nebraska but the world. As you probably know, we all learn differently, but we know one thing for certain: when we are engaging ourselves and our children, our capacity for success is limitless.
In a rapidly changing, fast-paced world, our great state needs to retain and grow young, driven, and innovative professionals. There’s simply no better place than afterschool–wherever you may be–to partake in quality learning that can spark future careers.
Just ask Jeff Cole, Beyond School Bells (BSB’s) Network Lead. A Nebraska Children and Families Foundation initiative, BSB is committed to enhancing our future workforce through quality expanded learning that literally goes around the world! That way, Nebraska K-12 learners can have the opportunity to interact with other young people from, say, Taiwan and beyond!
Jeff’s daughter Hana McMahon-Cole followed in his footsteps while paving her own way. Fast-forward almost 20 years and Hana is now responsible for bridging quality experiential learning from the Heartland to Taiwan.
As we see it, afterschool learning in Nebraska knows no boundaries.
Jeff agrees. And what better way to produce these learning opportunities than the Think Make Create™ (TMC™) Lab? This 7 x 12-foot compact trailer takes learning on the road in support of afterschool and summer learning programs. The trailer’s bins contain engaging materials designed for STEM and creative activities, including electronics, crafting supplies, textiles/sewing scarps, paints, and art supplies.
Not only is Jeff and his team dedicated to forming partnerships that create quality learning experiences across the state, but like so many of our staff members, Jeff lives out his mission and passion for afterschool programming.
After conferring with Max Cuppens, a young BSB designer, Max and his father, a master carpenter, built out the first TMC™. From there, the project exploded. According to Jeff, there are currently 44 TMC™s in Nebraska and 20 across the country, including Idaho.
“When we started working with our Idaho partners, we realized we had a mutual interest in Taiwan. MICRON USA, an Idaho-based company, makes their microchips there, and I had a daughter with TMC™ experience who would be learning there-a perfect opportunity!” said Jeff, regarding Hana.
Hana gained experience with the project when she was part of a BSB team that hacked the original TMC™ Lab.
“She took the original idea and worked with the team to make the TMC™ more environmentally-oriented, called the TMC™ e2,” said Jeff. “She helped make [the lab] a platform for environmental education.”
Empowered by a $25,000 grant from MICRON USA to build out the TMC™ and recruit partners to develop educational programming, Hana found the project resonated with Taiwan and local partners.
Jeff and his team’s prime objective may span across the globe, but at the end of the day, many of his aspirations for afterschool are right here at home.
“The goal is to make Nebraska’s afterschool programs not only the best in the country, but an inspiration for programs around the world,” said Jeff.
“The [TMC™] is a Nebraska innovation making differences throughout the U.S. and the globe. Afterschool providers in Nebraska are naturally creative and I want us to be known, as we move into this school year, as a national hub of innovative afterschool,” said Jeff.
Jeff said he hopes to develop a Nebraska and national inventory so providers can share their success stories and experiential learning ideas to inspire other afterschool providers and create future-oriented programs. Taiwan is the first step.
When the pandemic struck, Hana saw our educational infrastructure take a heavy hit. She immediately knew that she wanted to find a solution.
“While learning has been disrupted for many across the world, it’s also become clear that we must adapt our approach to learning, rather than wishing COVID away,” she said.
As Hana witnessed how BSB’s TMC™s proliferated across Nebraska and throughout the country, she quickly realized that quality learning occurs in small packages.
As a proponent for both blended and experiential education, Hana said that although each person may embody a different learning style, we all have one thing in common.
“While there are many types of learners, we all learn through experience,” she said. “When possible, I believe we must make learning as experiential as possible,” she said.
Hana said this realization took root a while ago when she first participated in her high school International Baccalaureate program.
For Hana, this experience alone was enough to move her mind and heart, as she said that this opportunity presented the first time her teachers assessed her through projects instead of tests.
From there, Hana’s inspiration traveled all the way to Turkey, where she pursued her studies as an exchange student, then well into her undergraduate years, at first at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, and finally to Minerva University.
“Through Minerva University, I had the opportunity to live and study in seven different countries while pursuing a degree in biology and data science,” said Hana. “Minerva’s network of local partners provided opportunities to work with many stakeholders on pressing problems and projects,” she said.
From pursuing design-thinking initiatives with the San Francisco Mayor’s Office to working with Voice 4 Girls in India, a nonprofit that empowers girls to redesign their camp, Hana realized that experiential learning is everywhere–and she wanted to spread this engagement more.
“During my first year [at Minerva], I was the grateful recipient of intentionally-designed educational experiences in the classroom and community,” said Hana. “Then, during my second and third years of university, I worked on the design side as part of the student experience team.”
Hana began engaging in educational experiences in three different Minerva locations (Seoul, Hyderabad, and London), which helped her gain awareness of the work behind the scenes.
Since graduating from Minerva in May 2020, Hana has spent the last two years between Nebraska and Taiwan.
In Nebraska, she played a pivotal role in designing Science, Technology, Engineering, the Arts, and Mathematics (STEAM )curricula within the TMC™ Labs, and most recently, she integrated Systems Thinking into their curriculum. In Taiwan, she’s working on her Mandarin while also collaborating with Lead for Taiwan, a nonprofit focused on teaching critical thinking while leading Systems Thinking workshops.
“My work with Lead for Taiwan made me realize that many of the educational problems faced in Taiwan mirror those faced in Nebraska,” she said. “Namely, an unequal distribution of resources between urban and rural school districts, and an educational system driven by tests.”
When the opportunity arose to launch a TMC™ Lab in Taiwan through MICRON USA’s support, suddenly, Hana saw all her subject areas of passion and expertise fusing.
In the fall of 2021, she pitched the idea to MICRON USA, exited quarantine, and in March 2022, she began working in-person on the TMC™ Lab in Taiwan.
“Our hope is that Taiwan can use these projects, alongside kids in Broken Bow, [Nebraska, for example], and at some point, we’ll connect them via our TMC™ community,” said Jeff. “Kids can connect using a project they built with their TMC™ in Broken Bow with kids in Idaho and then Taipei! This is about building a larger sense of self for Nebraska youth.”
At present, Hana has the TMC™ interior buildout planned for mid-June, with the help of her generous partner, South Taiwan Maker Space, who is providing her team with tools and space for the buildout.
After this big day, the cohort will spearhead their first event in mid-July at an event organized by their partner, Lidexu, who will use their trailer for a one-week summer camp.
“I think life is about solving problems,” said Hana. “Critical thinking is crucial to solving problems. If you aren’t focused on the toolkit and only on the results, when you face problems, you won’t know how to deal with them. And the problems can be small or big; it can be designing something out of cardboard in a TMC™ or it can be climate change; the key is giving youth exposure to the tools and experiences they need to prepare for the future,” she said.
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