What Is Project-Based Learning at 42 Like?
At 42, project-based learning has a big impact on our community. It gives students a chance to explore their passions, develop skills, and change the world. Instead of classes or courses, we have a connected galaxy of projects. These projects may last anywhere from 2 days to 6 months. Some projects are worked on individually and others are done in groups with peers. Each project is a challenge with a brief description of the objectives and skills students will learn throughout the process.
Both students and companies can suggest ideas for projects to our academic team. Some of these suggestions are added to the 42 curricula depending on their success. These are a great way for students to gain real-world experience. It is also a great way for companies to gain exposure to 42 students.
What Project-Based Learning at 42 Isn’t: Old School, Anxiety-Inducing Group Work
Many students in the U.S. may have participated in a group project before in a traditional school setting. They may have felt like their grade was negatively impacted by having a group member who didn’t pull their weight. And they may have felt like the process was frustrating and left them with zero control.
What people forget is that in the workplace, you are more likely to work on a project with other people than entirely by yourself. So project-based learning is an important step in learning how to work with your peers. Communication and the ability to work in a team are now part of the required skill set that most employers are looking for today. At 42 we are mindful of how important this is for our students to learn. That is why we allow students to form their own groups and steer their own projects.
Project-Based Learning in Industry: The Importance of Resilience and Diversity
According to Research Briefs, there are 70 well-establish corporate innovation labs in the United States which include well-known brand names such as Google, Microsoft, and Amazon. They span a diverse array of industries such as tech, telecommunications, financial, retail, auto/aerospace, health, media, and energy. Corporations establish innovation labs in response to having to compete with startups. Startups invented a culture that embraces diversity and inclusion. In addition, startups practice adaptability when faced with failure.
At 42, students get used to the idea of failure early on when they begin to tackle projects. One of our alumni, who now works at Apple, shared how learning to work through failure helped her, “42 taught me, don’t be afraid to fail and to stand up and continue to go. Even if you fail you can still feel confident and it gives you some power.” Project-based learning at 42 gives students a “safe space” in which to experiment, learn and yes fail.
Diversity Leads to More Innovation
The 42 community also values demographic diversity (gender, race, socioeconomic status, etc.) which leads to diversity of thought. According to Entrepreneur Magazine, a study featured in Harvard Business Review found that diversity leads to more innovation. It noted, “One study found diverse leadership teams out-innovate other companies and are 70 percent more likely than a less-diverse competitor to capture a new market. With evidence like that, you can’t afford not to invest in diversifying your team.” Since 42’s admissions process is 100% merit-based, your background doesn’t matter. We want to give everyone a chance to learn how to code. This approach has led to a naturally diverse cohort of students who are ready to take on the challenges that we present through our project-based curriculum.
We spoke to 42’s Chief Academic Officer, Gaetan Juvin. He offered more insight into how diversity gives students the opportunity to demonstrate their strengths through projects. Gaetan shared, “The way we approach project-based learning is different. I think the way we do it is is based on equality. Every student has the same opportunity, but they all come from different backgrounds and are at different levels. Everyone in a peer-based project has their own role based on their strengths and motivation.”
42 Robotics Lab: Developing Projects that Combine Software and Hardware
We started a spacious workshop for students to pursue and build various projects. Led by our robotics guru, Daniel Goncharov, the 42 Robotics Lab is a great opportunity to engage in prototyping. Companies may work with us on projects that combine both hardware and software. Below are a couple of examples of impactful projects that students have worked on in 42’s Robotics Lab:
Earthquake and Seismic Activity Alert System with the Sigfox Foundation
This project is in collaboration with the Sigfox Foundation and the Mexican government. Students are currently working on using tiny Sigfox sensors to detect seismic activity. Once data on seismic activity has been gathered, students and the Sigfox team will build an alert system to notify the general public of impending activity. Eventually, the goal is to advance to predict earthquakes before they happen: a great way to use technology to save lives!
Mycotronics: Mushrooms + Stanford Bioengineering Researchers + 42 Students
42 has teamed up with Stanford Bioengineering to create a robotics system based on mushroom-related research. Believe it or not, but mushrooms can be more than just food. So we’re developing an easy-to-use, cost-effective production system that Makers will love. Mycelium materials are bringing mycelium, the vegetative portion of mushrooms, into the forefront as a sustainable material.
42 Project Incubator: Solving Real-World Problems
Students need opportunities to work on projects that focus on solving real-world problems. This needs to be done in a collaborative environment that also simulates the workplace. Our project incubator allows students to delve into the startup culture which centers around project-based learning. It gives students opportunities in innovation, teamwork, and creative problem-solving. Below are two examples of impactful projects that 42 students in the project incubator have worked on:
California State Park + 42 Develop App Together
The Wilderness Patrol app was developed by 42 students to address the needs of the California State Park system and the 1,300 Wilderness Patrol volunteers at Rancho del Oso. The app can pinpoint your exact location on the map without any cell service. Basically, the app allows Wilderness Patrol volunteers to crowdsource the information and makes it easy to accurately report any issues they encounter.
Simplifying Remittance Payments with a Mobile App Developed at 42
A former refugee from Ethiopia, an urban planner from Manhattan, and a former computational math major from the Bronx are all part of a team of students at 42 who created a remittance payment app they named Kafali Pay. Kafali Pay is a mobile application that helps people compare money transfer options so they can send money to relatives who might not have access to a bank account. Basically, Kafali Pay is the “kayak” of remittance payments. You can compare money transfer options so friends and family sending cash can make the best decision.
The Overall Value of Project-Based Learning at 42
Preparing students for employment at startups or big corporate innovation labs is an important part of our mission to disrupt engineering education. The value of free education is strengthened by giving students control over which projects they start and complete, when they work, and how they learn.
Project-based work imitates real-world work and encourages students to not just learn time management but to build conceptual frameworks of what is and is not important or relevant to a project. This skill of being able to establish structures and boundaries for projects is central to becoming an excellent coder. It pushes students to think critically and learn through failure.
This gives our students a head-start as they can experience these “growing pains” through project-based learning while they are in school. 42 students are motivated and ready to take on any new task with a critical lens and creative approach.