Being a Teacher is Smart

Being a Teacher with Entrepreneurial Experience is Smarter

Ask a group of teachers to brainstorm lesson plans or techniques to gain the cooperation of unruly students, and you expect the discussion to be lively. Ask them to come up with ideas for new businesses and products, and their discussion is every bit as vibrant.

When the teachers participating in a recent Science and Mechatronics Aided Research for Teachers with an Entreprenuership expeRience (SMARTER) program were set to that task, they came up with a variety of innovative ideas, including USB devices that could be incorporated into fashion accessories and camera-ruler combinations that could take photos and measure on a micro scale.

As part of their six-week summer experience, the teachers were treated to a unique workshop conducted by experts from the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, who discussed intellectual property, patents, copyrights, and trademarks. Putting that information to immediate practical use, the teachers completed patent and trademark searches on their own ideas—just in case someone had already thought of the backpack with an integrated charger for mobile devices.

The teachers brought their newly ignited entrepreneurial zeal back to their students, who later competed in a high-school version of the School of Engineering’s Inno/Vention competition. The winning team was led by Mamaroneck High School teacher Jigar Jadav, whose students have already filed a preliminary patent on their invention: a computerized system for providing football quarterbacks with cognitive as well as physical training. The second-place team, coached by teacher Charisse Nelson of Brooklyn’s Park Place Academy, also addressed a football-related problem; they came up with a belt that allows a player in a wheelchair to stabilize the ball and be a fully integrated participant in the game.

The benefits of the SMARTER program are far from one-sided. In addition to gaining insight into areas they might never before have explored, the teachers were happy to lend students and faculty from the School of Engineering their own expertise. In one noteworthy example, Lee Holman, a teacher who works with children on the autism spectrum at PS 153 in the Bronx, worked with the developers of CAESAR, a humanoid robot built with off-the-shelf and 3D-printed parts and programmed using open software with the intent of helping people with disabilities. Caesar’s blank, robotic expression, they had found, disturbed many who tested the original model, however. Thanks to Holman’s input, Caesar now boasts moving eyebrows and other attributes that allow him to clearly express a wide range of emotions, including happiness, sadness, and surprise.

Caesar is not the only one at NYU and its Center for K-12 STEM Education expressing excitement in recent months. In late summer 2014 it was announced that a team of researchers led by Vikram Kapila had won a four-year $2,545,955 grant from the National Science Foundation for a project focused on professional development and teaching STEM with robotics. (In addition to Kapila, the team includes School of Engineering Professor Magued Iskander, the K-12 STEM Education Center’s Ben Esner, and Steinhardt Professors Catherine Milne and Orit Zaslavsky.)

Next summer will thus be bringing even more teachers, fulfilling programs, and STEM projects to Brooklyn.