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Designing Authentic Learning Experiences for the 21st Century with BrainCo

Check out my podcast episode with Andrew Bannish from BrainCo

The current model of education conjures up images of factories and assembly lines – a rigid broadcast model where teachers and students take on traditional, industrial-era roles.

In “Redesigning American High Schools for the 21st Century,” Cook-Deegan describes U.S. high schools as “depressingly archaic” (2016). And it’s true.

Students are “tired, stressed, and bored” with this antiquated system (Cook-Deegan, 2016). And teachers are too.

For years – and perhaps even more heightened in the past few months – educators have argued that students are learning in an education system that increasingly does not match the needs of the 21st century. As a result, there has been a large push to reimagine education. 

This vision for the future focuses on providing students with the 21st century skills needed to thrive in the fourth industrial revolution, a movement characterized by blended learning and innovative technologies. 

But perhaps even more powerful is this idea that students learn best by doing. 

This isn’t a new concept. 

Educators have known for quite some time that students learn best through experience. John Dewey wrote Experience and Education in 1938, and more than 80 years later, educators continue to advocate for a shift toward experience-based learning. 

But at the same time, we are still asking ourselves the same questions: how do we design meaningful learning experiences? (Pearce, 2016). 

As Dewey writes, “it is not enough to insist upon the necessity of experience, nor even of activity in experience. Everything depends upon the quality of the experience which is had” (1938). 

The question of quality learning experiences often stumps teachers. It can be difficult to design authentic lessons when state standards, curriculum, and budget cuts weigh heavily on many K-12 teachers. 

Because of this, for today’s blog post, I am going to provide an example of a high-quality lesson that teachers can implement in their classrooms next year.

Authentic Learning with BrainCo

Every year, hundreds of thousands of people across the U.S. suffer from amputations and limb loss (Amputee Coalition, 2017). Some studies show that as many as 500 amputations occur in the U.S. each day (Amputee Coalition, 2017), yet a small fraction of these individuals are able to afford high-tech prosthetic solutions. 

Engineers at BrainCo recognized this need, and developed the BrainRobotics AI Dexus Prosthetic, giving amputees an accessible solution. This product uses artificial intelligence and neuroscience to allow amputees to control a prosthetic naturally with their own brain and muscle signals.

 With BrainCo, amputees can give a firm handshake, play the piano, write calligraphy, and do so much more. 

But, BrainCo didn’t stop there. 

Their engineers began wondering how they could inspire and educate the next generation of students to tackle the real-world challenges that society faces. In combining authentic learning pedagogy and insight from experts in both engineering and education, BrainCo developed a STEM Kit to create genuine experiential learning for students. 

About the BrainCo STEM Kit

The STEM Kit brings technology, experience-based learning, pedagogy, and engineering into the classroom. With the STEM Kit, BrainCo has been able to transform the real-life challenges that their engineers face into authentic learning experiences for students

This kit consists of both hands-on hardware and connection to real engineers, guiding students through the learning process about themes like neuroscience, body systems, biomedical technology, and prosthetics.

So excited to receive my STEM Kit in the mail!

Using the STEM Kit in the Classroom

The STEM Kit can be implemented successfully in a variety of different learning environments, from STEM classes to Makerspaces to Afterschool enrichment clubs. As a teacher, you can implement the STEM Kit in your classroom, using their curriculum guide as a launching point. 

The kit works best when teachers act as facilitators of student learning. Rather than relying on the broadcast model of the past, teachers act as guides and coaches to the learning process. Students specifically explore the kit through the design thinking framework:

  • Empathize: How can I understand the people and issues I am trying to solve?
  • Define: How can I properly define a problem?
  • Ideate: How can I brainstorm different ways of solving this problem?
  • Prototype: What things can I create to test my solution to this problem?
  • Test: Does my solution solve the problem?

The curriculum guide that accompanies the hands-on kit further provides teachers with structure and modules to implement and scaffold student learning. These modules are tied to learning frameworks, allowing teachers to apply inquiry-based learning in their classrooms while simultaneously meeting standards and core competencies. 

Looking Forward

Students need and crave agency over their learning. Students want to become authors of their own learning experiences, and BrainCo recognizes that. As a high-quality model of effective inquiry-based learning and teaching, BrainCo embodies my vision for the future of education. 

Over the next few weeks, I’m going to be tinkering with the BrainCo STEM Kit, experimenting with the ways it can be used to support student learning and 21st century skill acquisition. I’ll be writing about my thoughts and ideas for authentic engagement.

With BrainCo, school can transform from depressingly archaic to inspiringly innovative.


Amputee Coalition. (2017). Limb Loss Statistics. Retrieved July 13, 2020. 

Cook-Deegan, P. (2016). Redesigning American High Schools for the 21st Century (SSIR). Retrieved July 13, 2020, from 

Dewey, J. (1938). Experience and education. New York, NY: Touchstone.

Pearce, S. (2016). Authentic learning: what, why and how? e-Teaching, April 2016(10).





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