Mindbender Academy Uses Fun to Inspire STEAM Careers

Mindbender Academy 2018: Coding with Texas Instruments

Standing in the atrium of the Frisco ISD Career and Technical Education Center, Peter Burns smiled as he listened to the buzz of another day of Mindbender Academy.

“I listen for noise,” said Burns, a Nokia employee who is chairman of the Mindbender program. “When I hear noise, the kids are having fun and they’re learning.”

That combination of fun and learning is a hallmark of Mindbender Academy, a summer camp designed to spark the excitement of incoming sixth, seventh and eighth grade students in the fields of science, technology, engineering, art and math (STEAM).

Mindbender was created 10 years ago through a project of Leadership Frisco and has since been a program of the Frisco Education Foundation (FEF), a non-profit organization that supports Frisco ISD students and teachers through educational programs, college scholarships and grants for educators.  

Mindbender Academy 2018: Filmmaking

Nearly 800 students attended this year’s camp, which included two weeks of learning through hands-on activities. Each year, partner businesses and organizations design projects, lead campers and support Mindbender through volunteers and donations. Nokia, Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital, CoServ and Texas Instruments were among more than a dozen companies that presented topics or provided general volunteers for this year’s camp.

“Mindbender Academy provides an opportunity for the business community and industry professionals to expose our students to career opportunities they might not have considered, in an innovative and interactive environment which encourages critical thinking, creativity and problem-solving skills,” said Burns, an FEF board member.

The first week of camp allowed students to participate in project-based activities in one of six tracks: coding and game design, film and video production, performing arts, health science, sports science and creation science, the last of which involved researching a topic with science and then using technology to share results. During the second week, students explored professional fields with volunteers from partnering companies.

“You can do anything here. Coding, arts, science, everything,” said Sarah Larson, an incoming eighth grader at Hunt Middle School who was attending camp for the third straight year. “This place is full of so many activities and there are lots of new people to meet. It’s like a wonderland.”

Mindbender Academy 2018: CodingSyndy Lynch was one of 10 Texas Instruments employees, along with 40 of the company’s summer college interns, who volunteered at Mindbender. Together, they helped campers use advanced graphing calculators to write code for programs that played music.

“TI as a company strongly encourages its employees to give back to the community,” said Lynch, TI’s Director of Sales Development in the Education Technology Division. “This is an obvious fit for us, and we get as much out of it as the kids do. There’s a joy in seeing the light bulb go on for them.”with 40 of the company’s summer college interns, who volunteered at Mindbender. Together, they helped campers use advanced graphing calculators to write code for programs that played music.

The camp is a learning experience for everyone involved, Burns said. But just as important, it focuses on fun.

“That’s what Mindbender is for,” Burns said. “It’s to stretch their minds out of the box without letting them know there is a box. It’s like putting them in a sandbox and saying, ‘Go play.’”


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