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Project IF inspires middle school students to ‘Imagine the Future’

The University of Miami welcomed local middle school students interested in creating science fiction multimedia Saturday morning as part of the Imagine the Future Project (Project IF).

Project IF, headed by Department of Teaching and Learning associate professors Ji Shen and Blaine Smith, is a 10-week long program hosted by the UM School of Education and Human Development. The goals are to develop interests, knowledge and skills in reading, writing, science and technology as well as to give children skills early on that can propel them into other opportunities.

“They’re going to write science fiction to think about the future of human kind, and the other aspect is the future of themselves,” Shen said.

The plan is to have students break into teams of three to create multimedia science fiction stories with a final project theme of environment and human health. Students will get to choose which tasks they’re taking on from researching, designing, writing and ultimately presenting their projects.

Using the Scratch project editor on scratch.mit.edu, a middle school student in Project IF tries his hand at multimedia storytelling. // Photo by Nadijah Campbell

Using the Scratch project editor on scratch.mit.edu, a middle school student in Project IF tries his hand at multimedia storytelling. Nadijah Campbell // Contributing Photographer

“I would say it’s not one part direction we want to push,” Shen said. “We want to inspire kids to see which direction they want to pursue.”

Throughout the weeks there will also be special guest speakers to show students the many paths available to them in the science fields.

Guest speakers Eric Swain and Troy Bernier, from the Miami International Science Fiction Film Festival, set the bar as the first guest speakers. They spoke to the students about the connection between science and storytelling.

Students received their first lessons from special guest speakers Erik Swain (left) and Troy Bernier (right), of the Miami International Science Fiction Film Festival. Swain stressed the importance of fully developing a storyline, while Bernier just wanted the kids to have fun and not be intimidated. // Photo by Nadijah Campbell

Students received their first lessons from special guest speakers Eric Swain (left) and Troy Bernier (right), of the Miami International Science Fiction Film Festival. Swain stressed the importance of fully developing a storyline, while Bernier just wanted the kids to have fun and not be intimidated. Nadijah Campbell // Contributing Photographer

Bernier wanted to talk to the students and inspire them to go through with their ideas because with a little more thought and planning, they could turn into “gems.”

“They’re probably the most creative human beings on the planet,” Bernier said.

Shen hopes that there can be collaboration between Project IF and the festival for students to showcase their multimedia to a larger audience.

Aside from supporting students, Project IF also serves as a way to assist the School of Education to learn what works and what doesn’t when it comes to educating students.

“We want to see whether in their final story they present the skills and understanding of science and writing,” said researcher Shiyan Jiang. “We will also look at the process of how they interact with each other.”

The team of researchers consists of two professors, an undergraduate student and four Ph.D. candidates. Shen said this is the second part of the program. It was first held at Ponce Middle School as an after-school program, but the time constraints brought the program to UM’s campus for Saturday sessions.

Project IF has 15 students and is completely free. Shen hopes his team can win a grant from the National Science Foundation to expand it internationally and fulfill his dream of kids from all over collaborating on projects online.

Correction, Sept. 13, 2015: The article originally spelled a name as “Erik Swain,” which is incorrect. The name’s correct spelling is “Eric Swain.”

September 12, 2015

Reporters

Nadijah Campbell


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