Most people meet over lunch or drinks. George Haines and I met over a twitter interaction concerning the efficacy of coffee ice cream. Our conclusion surrounding the delicacy is still undetermined, however the brief introduction is imperative in describing how accessible, cordial and hardboiled Haines is.
This is the guy you want in your classrooms. This is the Kool-Aid that you want your young minds drinking. As Director of Technology at Sts. Philip and James School in Long Island, Haines helps teachers redesign traditional lessons by integrating technology into their classrooms and into their kids’ lives.
MicroInterns gives students the opportunity to work as interns for a day with different tech-startups. They create content, give feedback and even code while learning from some of the most influential entrepreneurs in New York City.
At 12 and 13-years old, they’re not just preparing for their futures, they’re living their lives. Haines took some time to answer our questions about his brainchild.
I like to think most people believe that at the spark of every entrepreneur’s light bulb going off is a spectacular (and very specific) story. Can you remember the precise moment that MicroInterns was dreamed up?
It was actually a culmination of a series of revelations. Over the course of my first couple of years as the Director of Technology, I began to see how much of what goes on in the outside world can be shared with my class. It started with the realization that it was extremely easy to bring people into my class via Skype.
Everyone is so connected and so easy to contact now thanks to social media and with Skype, amazing people can chat with my students from their office, kitchen, coffee shop, wherever. So that cemented my belief that the walls of my classroom didn’t really exist the way they did 20 years ago.
It seems silly for me to talk about Douglas Rushkoff’s or Clay Shirky’s ideas to my students when I could actually have Rushkoff or Shirky talk directly with my kids. It’s like in the movie Back to School where Rodney Dangerfield’s character gets Kurt Vonnegut to write his literature paper for him. Now it’s not cheating though, now it is just being sensible.
Skyping is great, and it became a big part of my class, but it was still something that went on inside our building, miles away from the real action in Silicon Alley. There are so many amazing tech startups and events in NYC every week and I’ve made an effort to be there to engage the community as often as possible. I was continually blown away by the welcoming vibe at those events.
Between social media and the various meetups and other events I attended, I started to learn my way around the NY tech scene and make some good friends. My core philosophy in education is that students learn by doing, so it dawned on me that I could combine all of that– 1. Connect my students to the superstars in the NY tech scene 2. Do it in their natural work environment and 3. Have my kids learn by doing.
So, I posted the idea in a few spots and I reached out directly to David Cohen of TechStars, who was looking to engage with students already. Things just sort of took up their own inertia from that point onward. That’s how the MicroIntern program was born. If you could pair and place interns with any company in the world, still standing or not, and at any moment in history, which would it be and why?
I’d like to expose them to concepts they might not stumble across on their own, so the first one that comes to mind is MakerBot Industries. I learned about MakerBot during my first visit to NYC Resistor, and like everyone else who encounters 3D printers, it set my brain on fire.
The possibilities right now are fantastic and the more 3D printing develops and becomes cheaper and easier, the bigger the disruptive impact it will have. The MicroIntern program is mainly about planting a seed in the minds of the students, letting them know what they can do to impact the future through technology.
They learn some technical things during the course of their one-day internship, but the big takeaways are always the larger contextual lessons. MakerBot Industries might be the most exciting concept in technology right now.
I think I would have taken my education more seriously because I would understand the reason why it was important to know the things I was learning. One of the big failures of education is that we don’t clearly communicate purpose.
Coaches on sports teams do a great job of connecting the learning process to the real-world application, but most teachers in the classroom don’t. There are really good reasons for teaching virtually everything we teach kids, but an overwhelming percentage of that purpose goes uncommunicated.
Many teachers don’t have good answers when a student asks, “Why do I need to learn about cell-division?” With the MicroIntern program, the question never comes up because the context is all around them.
What’s the wildest answer you’ve gotten when asking a 12 or 13-year-old student what they think an angel investor is?
Ha! Well the fact that the students are from a Catholic school could have stirred up some funny answers about “angel” investors, but I try to emphasize to the kids that it is crucial to do their research and get some depth of understanding when answering those types of questions.
They do a terrific job of learning the basics they need to know before engaging the environment. Being kids though, they do like to play games and have fun so before they commit to work with any startup they want to know if they’ll be able to take breaks to play Ping-Pong like they did at TechStars, or shoot Nerf darts at each other like at Yodle.
It’s hilarious how quickly that question comes up when I am pitching a new idea to them. It’s like, “Sure, we’d love to work with a Ruby Dev team next month . . . but what games do they have?”
Now take a breather. What was your favorite book in 7th grade and what is your favorite book now?
I actually used to hate reading as a kid, even though my mom was a librarian! Oh, the irony. I read some here and there, but sitting still and being quiet were never two of my strengths. I did read Tom Sawyer cover to cover in two days though. I think it is because he was always up to no good, so I could relate to the character.
Now I love to read, though. I read way more non-fiction, which usually bores people to death but I just find it richer than fiction. My all-time favorite? Probably The Lucifer Principle by Howard Bloom. It’s done more to shape my understanding of human nature than anything else I’ve experienced.
With MicroInterns coming up on its big one-year-anniversary, can you name one thing you’re most thankful for, one thing you’d like to improve upon and one thing that you’ve learned from the most over this past year?
There are too many things I am grateful for, so I am going to violate the rules here and name more than one. The first obvious one is my kids– I am grateful to be able to work with such a competent, polite, resourceful group of middle-schoolers. They blow me away each and every time we invade NYC.
The second thing I am grateful for is the NY tech community. These entrepreneurs work 12-14 hour days sometimes, have to work on a pitch for investors, have to redesign their product or figure out how to pivot to a new idea, yet they still take the time out of their day to really engage my kids. There is such a collegial, selfless culture among New York’s entrepreneurs and I’m grateful that my kids and I get a chance to be a small part of it.
The one thing I’d like to improve on is connecting other kids at other schools to the program. I think it is difficult for people in education to wrap their heads around the program because it isn’t a bureaucratic marathon of paperwork. We go on days school isn’t in session, it doesn’t cost anything and there is only one web-based application for the kids to fill out. It takes time for me to find the right fit, but once I have a partner it’s just a matter of getting to the train on-time on the day of the event. It’s frictionless.
I’ve been in contact with a number of schools in the NY area and it startles me how much paperwork they expect from me and how much they generate just to give kids a link to an application. The one thing I’ve learned is that kids really appreciate the opportunities we provide. I think it is so important for everyone– not just teachers– to look for opportunities for the kids in their lives.
Whether it is your own kid, a niece or nephew, friend of the family it doesn’t matter, think about who you can connect with them. I am not saying that as a hypothetical. I mean you, the person reading this right now, who can you connect with the kids in your life? I’d love to read your ideas in the comments below.