STEM Superheroes: An Immersive Learning App
A free pocket sized learning tool for BIPOC middle school girls using representative superheroes, fusing augmented reality with applied technical education with culturally responsive and holistic gamified modules. This initiative is youth-led!
A 2023 MIT Solve Gender Equity in STEM Challenge Winner with $100k+ in funding from Tiger Global Impact Ventures.
Immersive educational environments at your fingertips.
Exciting STEM modules that you can place in your real world environment. It's your very own mind palace, a place where you can visualize new concepts in a way that you remember through engaging and relatable modules led by real-women superheroes. Use your phone and dive into learning.
Centering all of YOU.
"I've always been pushed to pursue STEM and to study hard, but that's where it stops! Nobody checks on how we're doing! STEM needs to be holistic. That's why, after each lessons, we have mental health exercises made with experts. When you complete them, you earn a superpower! My favorite are the breathing exercises. I feel like all of ME matters."
-Alexandra Villanueva, Youth Lead
Of users self-identify as girls.
Users during a month of Beta testing.
Of users are ages 20 and younger.
In funding received to build out this initiative.
This project is a MIT Solve Gender Equity in STEM challenge winner and received $100k in funding. We've also received funding from Zoom Cares, MTV, and Pinterest for mental health initiatives. Upon polling our users, 94% said that our app boosted their comfort in pursuing STEM and 87% would make it their go-to for STEM learning.
Accompanying our award-winning curriculum serving 800k+ youths here at The STEAM Connection. Super Sisters is hosted on our Make-A-Robot virtual learning platform for educators to use in the classroom.
We make this work through augmented reality.
AR is like magic because it simplifies hard concepts that many youth struggle with. AR works by putting digital things onto the real world around you. Thanks to computer vision, you can see things that you wouldn't normally, and can master tough concepts.
The global AR educational market is expected to rise from $3.5 billion dollars to over $56 billion dollars in the next ten years.
"My parents and teachers said that STEM was my path to success. But I wondered, 'Now what?' I didn’t see role models from my background represented. When I’d open a textbook, it never felt like it was made for people like me. I didn’t see examples I related to. And I knew I wasn’t alone, so I created Super Sisters, an app that makes advanced STEM learning come to life through gamified augmented reality (AR) lessons with a focus on inclusive, culturally responsive, and holistic STEM created for BIPOC middle school girls. I can hold up my phone and start learning complex STEM concepts with lessons ranging from Native plants, to robot building, to our solar system! When you learn, you earn virtual superpowers. It’s like a video game but better and has characters that look like me. Right now, the app is being used in schools all around the world, including my own Girls in STEM club that I started at my school!" -Alexandra - age 15, The STEAM Connection Ambassador
Super Sisters is a free pocket sized learning tool for BIPOC middle school girls. By integrating augmented reality with applied technical education, the app offers immersive and culturally responsive learning experiences. Through the use of augmented reality technology, users can engage with interactive gamified modules encompassing robotics, language, culture, and more, all seamlessly blending into their real-world surroundings with a simple act of holding up their phone.
Our modules have lessons on how to introduce yourself in Indigenous languages, building robots virtually, stories of real women role models in STEM, traditional architecture, Indigenous plants, and so much more. The app is guided by illustrated BIPOC women superheroes who reward users for learning. As users progress through the app, they are prompted to complete mental health exercises on subjects ranging from breathing exercises to culturally responsive ways of healing. This creates a holistic approach to STEM education that embraces the whole user.
Our resources are hosted on our The Make-A-Robot Virtual Learning Platform, full of culturally responsive educational resources geared towards Indigenous educators and youths with over 34k users. These resources accompany our award-winning robotics educational resources focused on Indigenous language revitalization and STEM learning. They focus on our student-driven learning goals focused on uplifting and centering Indigenous and overall BIPOC communities.
About Alexandra's Mission
"When I look at STEM subjects, especially my interest in computer science, I don’t see a lot of people like me. My name is Alexandra. I am a first-generation Salvadoran, 14 years old, and am a girl. STEM learning resources are not created by people from my community, are hard to relate to, and often don’t focus on my mental health and wellbeing. Technical education holds a lot of importance for BIPOC communities as it plays a super important role in promoting self-determination, and promotes opportunities in tech careers, and empowering people like me to find their voice. Unfortunately, our people face barriers - many of which that are systemic - that limit our access to tech resources, making the need for technical education even more critical. So, I created Super Sisters."
Of girls don't know a woman in a STEM profession. [a]
Of the STEM workforce is male. [b]
Of workers in STEM careers are non-white. [c]
Of middle school girls express an interest in STEM. [d]
Statistic explanations and sources:
Our initiative primarily serves BIPOC middle school girls who are underrepresented in STEM and is led and guided by a first generation Salvadorian teen girl. To understand the needs of our target population, our solution is designed by youth for youth. It is also women-led. This initiative is entirely youth-led and developed. We are a team of Indigenous and Chicano inventors, developers, and youths working to create solutions for our communities. Our solution addresses the needs of BIPOC middle school girls by offering culturally responsive content and representation. The app showcases real relatable role models through illustrated BIPOC women scientists and engineers who serve as mentors, providing guidance and sharing their experiences. By incorporating mental health resources, such as breathing techniques and mindfulness exercises, we also prioritize the holistic well-being of the girls, empowering them to develop resilience and manage stress. Through our solution, BIPOC middle school girls will have access to engaging and relevant educational materials, relatable role models, and mental health support. This will help bridge the representation gap in STEM, inspire their interest and confidence in pursuing STEM subjects, and equip them with the skills and knowledge needed for future success. Ultimately, our solution aims to empower and uplift the lives of BIPOC middle school girls, opening doors to opportunities and promoting diversity and inclusivity in the field of technology.
This app was conceptualized and created by Alexandra Villanueva Salvadoran (Youth Ambassador), and is supported by mentors Danielle Boyer Ojibwe (Inventor, Founder) and Lucid Skies LLC - a Youth & Chicano Run Design Studio, and has been informed by students and community members for The STEAM Connection.
Try our demo.
A special demo where you can try a Super Sisters robotics module without downloading anything! This is so you can get a feel of our Super Sisters interface and have an idea of what AR and education looks like.
This is a student-led initiative, hosted by The STEAM Connection and created with Lucid Skies, LLC.
"My name is Alexandra Villanueva. I am 14 years old and I am a first generation Salvadoran American. I love computer science, and I want to make STEM learning safe, holistic, and fun for girls like me. Super Sisters: STEM Superheroes is a women and youth led solution focused on BIPOC middle school girls. This solution is created with The STEAM Connection and Lucid Skies, LLC as the team lead and youth ambassador. They are working to make technology accessible to underrepresented communities with culturally representative experiences, and I'm working with them to reach girls with STEM learning resources. Our unique collaboration allows us to create solutions targeted to young BIPOC girls. My role is to lead this solution with the guidance and support of The STEAM Connection, their mentors, and my family." -Alexandra Villanueva, Youth Ambassador.
About the Partners:
The STEAM Connection team: The STEAM Connection is a 501(c)(3) charity creating equitable and innovative learning solutions for Indigenous youths with robots that they design, manufacture, and give away for free. They are a minority and youth-led charity that has reached 600k+ youths with technical education with an emphasis on language revitalization since 2019. The STEAM Connection focuses on the future: ushering in a new age of education via personal and wearable robotics, artificial intelligence systems, and augmented reality.
"Youth are at the forefront of our work, and many of our initiatives are student created and led. Our students are on the ground creating solutions that they resonate with to benefit our communities. All of our youth leads are BIPOC women and girls."-Danielle Boyer, Founder.
The Lucid Skies team: Lucid Skies, LLC is a Chicano, family-owned, and youth led mixed reality design firm. They use augmented reality, virtual reality, and artificial intelligence to empower and uplift communities.
"We are a team of artists and engineers envisioning the collective future of our people. Mixing creativity with technology, our mission is to bring mixed reality to communities that have been underrepresented. From the incredible architectural masterpieces of the Mesoamerican cities to the complex system of calendars that mapped the stars, our people have always created technologies that were works of art. We believe in the notion that we are not people who are merely consumers of technology, but we are actively combining our work ethic, wisdom, and intelligence to create our future." -Lucid Skies, LLC.
This initiative stands out as an innovative tool in education by harnessing the power of augmented reality (AR) technology. AR is a relatively new and untapped tool in the educational realm, and we are at the forefront of leveraging its potential to enhance learning experiences. Our app combines interactive modules with augmented reality technology, creating immersive and engaging learning experiences. This unique blend of technology and educational content offers a novel way for students to interact with and comprehend STEM concepts, fostering deeper understanding and long-term engagement.
Why another app? According to the Child Mind Institute, "42% of kids have a phone by age 10. By age 12, its 71%." Kids are on their phones, their attention spans are shorter, and they often relate to the world through social media. When we conducted a survey with Indigenous middle and high school students on how they learn best, 82% mentioned the words "phone" or "social media". Creating a free immersive application that provides accurate representation, engaging exercises, and mental health resources for BIPOC youths to utilize in the classroom or at home will help us make STEM learning more approachable and fun. Our solution is designed to address the lack of representation and engagement in applied technology education for BIPOC girls. By providing relatable role models, personalized learning experiences, and integrating mental health practices, we aim to empower and inspire these girls to excel in STEM fields, fostering inclusivity and diversity in technology education.
The core technology: The core technologies that power our mobile app are augmented reality (AR) and machine learning, specifically computer vision. These technologies work together to create an immersive and interactive learning experience for students.
Augmented reality is employed to enhance the app by overlaying digital objects onto the real-world environment captured through the camera of mobile devices. This enables students to visualize and interact with virtual objects in their own physical space. Unlike traditional static textbook learning, AR brings concepts to life and allows students to engage with technology in a more tangible and practical way. For example, they can see a virtual robot on their desk, drive it around, dismantle it, examine each component, and reassemble it. This real/digital world interaction facilitates a deeper understanding of complex concepts, and students can actively participate in simulated experiments and project-based modules. The use of augmented reality on modern mobile devices, similar to popular applications like TikTok and Instagram filters, enables seamless integration of virtual objects into the real world.
Machine learning, specifically computer vision, plays a crucial role in our app. It enables mobile devices to detect and recognize objects such as tables, floors, and people within the camera feed. This object detection capability allows for virtual objects to interact with the physical reality captured by the camera. For instance, our app can simulate physics-based scenarios where a robot needs to withstand a specific amount of force during a drop. As the student drives the virtual robot off their own table, the app utilizes machine learning to understand the height of the drop and identify the table and floor. This information is then used to provide an intuitive visualization of the forces at play, such as displaying arrows representing acceleration and velocity. Through these simulations, students can gain a practical understanding of the forces involved and witness the visual representation of these forces in action.
By harnessing the power of augmented reality and machine learning, our app enables students to have a more engaging and experiential learning journey. They can visualize, manipulate, and interact with technology concepts in a way that goes beyond passive reading or memorization. The combination of these technologies fosters a deeper understanding of applied technology principles, enhances critical thinking skills, and encourages creativity and exploration.
An overview of the STEM disconnect for young BIPOC girls:
[a] According to "Closing the STEM Gap" by Microsoft, girls are more likely to show interest in STEM subjects and pursue STEM careers when they have access to educational materials that feature relatable role models and highlight the relevance of STEM to their own lives. However, 64% of girls don't know a woman in STEM profession.
[b] The STEM workforce is 72% male (Society of Women Engineers).
[c] Only 33% of workers in STEM careers are non-white (Pew Research Center).
[d] 74% of middle school girls express an interest in engineering, science, and math, but only 0.4% choose computer science as a major when they get to college. Reported by Girls Who Code.
STEM Divide: “STEM is not available to all learners” – The White House.
Given these challenges, technical education becomes a vital tool for empowering our communities. By providing access to culturally responsive technology, training, and resources, it helps bridge the digital divide and equips individuals with the skills needed to thrive now. Technical education also opens doors to career opportunities in the tech sector, where our voices and perspectives are often underrepresented. The lack of diverse perspectives hampers the progress of scientific research, limits innovation, and undermines efforts to address the unique challenges faced by our communities. It is essential to create inclusive and supportive environments in STEM education and workplaces, recognizing and valuing the contributions of our people. Moreover, technical education fosters self-determination by allowing our communities to assert control over our own technological development. It enables us to address specific needs and challenges we face, promoting community resilience and self-sufficiency.