Hollis Hackers, initiated by Hollis STEM teacher Nichole Jones, is an after-school program for 4th and 5th graders that connects students to STEM through hands-on projects. After Jones established the group, CEISMC brainstormed project ideas for the Hackers and eventually began co-facilitating it. Each week Hollis students stepped outside of the traditional classroom framework through an innovative and fun, project-based curriculum.
Inspired by a surplus of old desktops in the CEISMC office, Georgia Tech’s first Hollis Hackers project delved into a deeper understanding of computer hardware. Under the guidance of CEISMC staff member, Justin Turner, students began with lessons on the different components that make a computer. They studied the parts, their functions, and how they come together. The Hollis Hackers then applied their new knowledge to the challenge of taking apart and reassembling the desktops brought in by CEISMC. Through the process of deconstructing and rebuilding computers, the students gained a tangible connection to computing concepts.
While the students were working on the computer hardware project, Dr. Tamara Pearson was laying plans for the Atlanta Science Festival Nerdy Derby. Nerdy Derby, a model car race similar to the Pinewood Derby, was set to be held at Hollis - notably the first Atlanta Science Festival event ever held on the Westside. As Nerdy Derby approached, the need for a track to race the cars became more pressing. It was the Hollis Hackers who stepped up and took on the challenge of building a three-lane, 31-foot model car racetrack. The 23 students in the club applied their physics skills from the classroom to the high-level project, but not without support. The Executive Director of Decatur Makers, Lew Lefton, is also a faculty member at Georgia Tech. Lefton had been involved in past Nerdy Derby events through Decatur Makers, but he came on board to lead the Hollis Hackers after Dr. Pearson reached out. As the Nerdy Derby deadline came closer, the Hackers and their sponsors were logging hours outside of their normal weekly meetings, doing whatever they had to do to get the track done. The roster of people working to help the students complete their project now included Jones, Dr. Pearson, Turner, Lefton, and a Georgia Tech undergraduate as well. This support system embodied the spirit of the partnership in engaging members across communities touched by both Hollis and Georgia Tech . While the track was being built, younger students, the Mini Hackers, built race cars for the Nerdy Derby. The final event was a big success, with 100 people attending. The Nerdy Derby track itself was designed with accessibility in mind, featuring the functionality to be taken apart and put back together for use throughout the school year. After the official Nerdy Derby, Hollis held its own Nerdy Derby to give other students at the school a chance to experience the track.
Hollis Hackers had a successful first year, with projects that connected all its student members to new challenges. It provided an opportunity for kids to experience STEM in action, and walk away with finished products to show for their work. This year’s success is promising for the future of Hollis Hackers. CEISMC’s Justin Turner hopes to build on the teaching model from this year, with possible updates to the technologies studied, to reflect what’s relevant in students’ daily lives. What will remain next year is the positive space that CEISMC has fostered for the Hackers to engage with STEM as a creative outlet.