Minecraft, Bollywood Dance, and Astrophysics Help College Students Connect With Kids Online

Two UC Berkeley students came up with an idea to connect college students with kids and teens. The result is an innovative -- and free -- learning program.

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A new, Bay Area-born program designed to cure kids' pandemic boredom is wrapping up its first successful summer -- and may be available to help middle and high school students keep learning in the fall.

It's called Connect-in-Place. (Think "shelter-in-place", but learning online while doing it.) The free program aims to connect kids and teens with students at Stanford, Cal, Harvard, and other top universities.

Connect-in-Place got going only a few months ago, when University of California, Berkeley business students Danielle Egan and Saumya Goyal came up with the idea.

“Our goal is basically to cure the isolation and boredom that came about from shelter in place,” Goyal said.

The online mini-courses cover traditional topics like astronomy and algebra, but branch into more unique categories, too -- like dance lessons for TikTok and Bollywood music, or the popular video game Minecraft.

“The full title is: ‘Minecraft, Introduction to Team Building and Architecture,’" Egan said. "It’s not just playing on Minecraft. It’s like, how can we apply this really cool program to build teams, build your own building, and dig a little deeper there.”

Egan and Goyal's brainchild was a mere flash of genius in the spring. By summer, they'd already connected 150 volunteer university mentors, hosts, and teachers to 2,200 computer campers -- who might not otherwise ever interact with elite college students.

“We aim to provide the opportunity to connect with these kids who are at really incredible colleges... ask them questions and learn from them firsthand," Goyal said.

With so much success so fast, we asked Egan and Goyal to share one of their secrets. Their "Four-Minute Rule" is a great example. Instructors are taught to add something engaging to every video conference, every four minutes.

"By adding little activities every four minutes, into your videoconferencing, you really build a lot of engagement and keep people looking at their screen," Goyal said. "An icebreaker; a poll; a breakout room; just something to get people thinking and clicking a button.”

The courses are free and open to all middle and high school students. Connect-in-Place asks participants who can afford it to make a small weekly donation, with all money going toward laptops for low-income students.

Although Connect-in-Place is wrapping up its summer sessions, Egan and Goyal say they're looking at options for more courses in the fall and beyond.

You can learn more about Connect-in-Place and donate at ConnectInPlace.org.

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