When Candela Ríos and Mario Gutiérrez, first-year high school students in Malaga and Madrid, took their grapes and welcomed 2020, they did so with the joy of knowing they were selected for the scholarship program of the Amancio Ortega Foundation, which, like every year since 2010, allows 600 students to spend an academic year in the United States and Canada. Some plans that, however, changed radically due to the coronavirus pandemic, which forced the foundation to urgently repatriate the students who were already there and to replace the initial program with a new educational initiative, led by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and the University of Cambridge, which could be combined with the completion of their first year of Baccalaureate studies in Spain.
He Advanced Talent Training, Inaugurated on October 2, it will take place throughout the 2020-2021 academic year and will allow its scholarship students to immerse themselves not only in the STEAM disciplines (science, technology, engineering, art and mathematics), but also to improve their level of English through a practical and personalized digital education program from two of the best universities in the world. “The experience of an academic year abroad is almost irreplaceable, but we wanted to offer an alternative to the 600 students who have been unable to leave and who were already selected, and who in this way will learn about other educational resources, other forms of teaching and learning, and another way of thinking and doing things ”, explains Belén Ocampo, project director of the Amancio Ortega Foundation.
During this first term, and through a series of classes, talks, workshops and collaborative activities, the participating students will be able to tackle topics such as artificial intelligence, space exploration with nanosatellites, the relationship between music and the physics of sound, climate change or mathematical creativity, among others. The designed curriculum, furthermore, goes beyond scientific subjects: “There are two music modules, on music design through digital tools and on the construction of instruments and music technology. But there are also others on the power of invention and discovery, and on the current situation of the pandemic, seen from different perspectives ”, adds Ocampo, in which they will learn and understand the spread of viruses, the implications that a global pandemic has in our lives and how we fight diseases from science.
A change that both Candela and Mario have welcomed with great pleasure: “I was very excited from the beginning; It seemed like a super good opportunity, especially because I’m interested in studying Physics and then Astronomy, and being able to work with MIT seemed great to me. Expectations are very high, ”says Candela. A sentiment shared by Mario, who intends to study aerospace engineering: “It seems good to me that they have looked for an alternative to the program, because it was also something they were not obliged to do, and it will be beneficial for us, we are going to learn a lot of things”.
Collaborative work and project learning
Over ten consecutive weeks, and with the intention of offering students learning tools that are useful for life, in addition to awakening interests and vocations, students will complete a series of practical modules through different weekly projects, guided by a team of mentors, students not only from MIT but from universities such as Harvard, Stanford, UPenn, Johns Hopkins, UNC or the University of Texas, among others. And, in a complementary way, presentations from different disciplines, from the most scientific to those most related to the humanities, “so that these students, who are considering what to do when they finish their studies, have a palette of varieties in things that might not have occurred to them at 15 or 16 years old. Profiles that are a little more transgressive, unusual and, nevertheless, closely connected with professional opportunities at an international level ”, says Ocampo.
The dynamics will always be the same, as Claudia M. Urrea, program coordinator at MIT explains: “Every Monday, the mentors send an email to the boys in which they tell them what the topic is going to be, and they make a first meeting where the mentor works with them. Then there is individual work and a lot of collaborative work in these groups. On Friday, when the module closes, they share their final works, which they built that week, and there is a speaker who will talk to them about what it means to work in that sector ”. Always with the aim of familiarizing them with the potential careers to which they could aspire, and above all with a form of remote learning that moves away from what some still think it is (lonely, in front of a machine and with little collaboration or manual work ): “A collaborative learning, where they will meet other kids who may have similar interests and mentors who can also guide them, with whom they will share many weeks of work,” he adds.
Ultimately, it is about learning by doing, a concept now in vogue but well known at MIT, whose slogan, “Mind and Hand”, already referred to it since its foundation in 1861. “MIT is a university small, with only 11,000 students and 1,000 teachers, but in its statutes is the mission to solve the great problems of humanity, something that cannot be done only from Cambridge [Massachusetts, donde tiene su sede]Instead, global strategic partners are needed. And the only way to do it is through the company, ”says Marco M. Muñoz, senior director for strategic initiatives at MIT. The seriousness of this academic institution’s commitment to this mission and its values is reflected in the between 300 and 450 patents it produces each year, more than any other university in the world, and the almost one hundred Nobel laureates associated with it. But what good is a patent if you don’t implement it? What good is education, innovation, if you don’t carry it out for the benefit of humanity? It’s a waste of time”.
As it is, for the most part, a program made up of weekly modules, one might wonder if it is not a very limited space of time. An aspect that was taken into account when designing the curriculum, so that it is assumed that the students will have about four hours available to carry out all the activities, from the meeting with the mentors, the possible tutorials if they need help and the collaborative activities As Urrea explains: “We want to take small concepts from each area and make sure there is an understanding in the active learning part. It is not that, for example, they are going to cover all artificial intelligence, but when that is the subject, we intend to address concepts that they can understand through the practical part of the activities ”.
“What is here is an opportunity: if they put in a little effort, they will finish their activity, but if they want to go deeper, there is a great opportunity to do it in the areas that interest them,” he says. A point of view with which the two scholarship holders who spoke with EL PAÍS in the realization of this report coincide: “I think that, as we all wanted to do it, in the end we have found time and we have managed to organize ourselves to do it,” he says Candle. And Miguel acknowledges that “time is always taken. And it’s good for me to disconnect doing the projects ”. To carry out this program, the foundation has provided each one with a state-of-the-art laptop with data connection and a kit electronics, in addition to another to be sent from MIT to work on topics related to the creation of medicines and health, in a module lasting two weeks.
From January to June, the Advanced Talent Training program recipients will go to Cambridge, accessing high-performance individualized language training. Divided into groups of 10 students with the same level of English and guided by a native tutor, they will carry out three hours a week of group work using multimedia materials developed specifically for them by Cambridge University Press, and which will incorporate concepts and content they have seen in the MIT modules. Students will also receive complementary material to carry out work independently for another two hours a week and will have access to one hour of individual tutoring.
At the end of the semester, they will certify the level of English achieved thanks to Linguaskill, an adaptive test developed by Cambridge Assessment English (CAE) that assesses levels from A1 to C1 and is supported by artificial intelligence, which allows adapting the difficulty of the questions depending on the level of the person who performs it. “This program stands out for the combination of cutting-edge scientific studies with an intensive development of English language skills, which is essential today to prosper in the fields of knowledge with more future”, recalls Xavier Ballesteros, director of CAE for Spain and Portugal. An experience that, in short, “will help us introduce new approaches to digital learning that will benefit and can be applied in other environments aimed at students from all over the world,” adds Aída García, director of Cambridge University Press for Spain and Portugal.
Development of key competencies
One of the key aspects of this program is its marked transversality, as the Amancio Ortega Foundation recalls: “All materials and content are treated in an interdisciplinary way. The students will link and apply in each module knowledge and methodologies of various academic areas, from the humanities to the sciences, passing through art ”. A complete curriculum that will also serve to promote the development of key skills and abilities in the future work and personal life of students: linguistic and technological skills; learn to learn; resolution of problems and conflicts; social competences; sense of initiative and entrepreneurial spirit; cultural awareness and even proper failure management.
Likewise, indirectly but no less relevant, it will help them to strengthen other important capacities such as the solvent and responsible use of information and communication technologies (ICT), knowledge and critical assessment of the realities of the contemporary world, understanding of the fundamental procedures of research and scientific methods and the development of an artistic and literary sensibility that will serve as a source of training and cultural enrichment.
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