Cisco’s hackathon with a Silicon Valley school empowers students to solve problems in their community with the Internet of Things.

If we want to ensure that the talent pipeline is robust and plentiful for the digital world, we need to invest in it now. Academia alone cannot keep up, nor can it sustain the kind of momentum and rapid change that business and technology are seeing today.

Taking young people out of the classroom and into real-world experiences and scenarios (also known as project-based learning) is the cornerstone for preparing students for the future and enabling the dynamic and well-rounded talent pool that the digital business demands.

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While learning outside of the traditional classroom setting isn’t a new concept, experiential education has yet to be broadly embedded in the education curriculum, rather it has been treated as more of an “add-on” (with the exception of a few universities). But, it needs to be a core tenant of early education. These real-world, hands-on experiences can give young talent unparalleled insight into the working world and future careers, help them develop job-related skills, and contribute to the welfare of their communities.

At Cisco, we see investing in these young, bright, inquisitive minds, as investing in our own future.

That is why we recently hosted a hackathon event at a school located right here in the Silicon Valley, to demonstrate this much needed hands-on approach to learning and education.

In March, Cisco’s Services Innovation Excellence Center joined with Bullis Charter School in Los Altos, Calif. to run an “Innovate Together” event for students in grades 6-8. This marks a growing trend we are seeing with the number of K-12 and higher education systems that have started experimenting with experiential learning models.

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These students were asked to develop an idea using Internet of Things technology that would have a positive impact on their community. In all, 165 students participated with creative ideas ranging from an app for parents to control the amount of time their children spend on technology devices, to an app that utilizes image recognition to identify if a product in a store was tested on animals.

Indeed, research has shown that experiential and project-based learning is linked to significant improvements in student test scores, attendance and classroom engagement as well as improved higher order thinking and problem solving skills, and speaks to a broader range of learners. For instance, in one study funded by the National Science Foundation, students in project-based physical science classes performed an average of 8 percent better on end of unit learning assessments than their peers in traditional classes.

The Bullis students’ ideas were judged on criteria including creativity and originality, magnitude of community impact, ease of use, incorporation of IoT technology, and presentation.

The winning proposal was “The Sellery,” which would distribute fresh salads through vending machines. The team won $250 to donate to the community charity of their choice. Just as important, if not more so, this event helped the students gain invaluable skills empowering them to help their communities while learning about leading technology applications in the Internet of Things. From a broader perspective, these types of programs will ultimately help to close the current technology skills gap we face as a society.

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What we witnessed from these bright young students in our own backyard was far more valuable than just a hackathon event. We saw eyes light up at the idea that they could invent, create, build and make a difference in their own community.

This partnership with Bullis Charter Schools is the kind of opportunity we must provide to our youth – the talent of the future. Our approach to experiential learning will continue to foster innovation, collaboration across business disciplines and industries, and create new pathways for future entrepreneurs.

Because Cisco and Learning@Cisco has been in the education and learning business for over 20 years now, we see it as both an opportunity and a moral duty to continue to invest in the future. We will continue to lead the industry in providing training and certification to further the educational evolution and collaborate with organizations, large and small, across the globe and in our own backyard.

The investment we make today in early education opportunities will have an even greater impact beyond business and into our communities, creating future leaders and new innovations that could change the world.



Jeanne Beliveau-Dunn

Vice President and General Manager

Cisco Services