Big Blue, downtown at 709 Scott Avenue, is still a living and breathing member of the downtown Wichita Falls area and it now holds on the second floor a surprising new addition of advanced learning for members of our community. Dexter Technology Park is a high-tech learning space for children from kindergarten through twelfth grade, and for adults. “Kids are coming here to both compliment and replace their traditional schooling,” said CEO Michael Olaya. “There is no age segregation, no mandatory attendance, and there are no formal lectures, so it is all self-guided and self-paced, and these kids and adults are building up personal responsibilities.”
“It all runs on our awesome software platform. Curriculum is a full-time job and creating the world’s best curriculum is a key aspect of what we are doing. To create these truly transformational experiences, we are constantly testing and modifying our curriculum. It is a digital living curriculum, and it keeps getting better and better,” he said confidently. “It’s intersectional and cross disciplinary by design. Towards the goal of digital literacy, members engage in curriculum at the intersection of subjects like mathematics, art, and coding. Skills like computer programming and mathematics aren’t individual subjects, but instead influences used to explore all areas of human knowledge. Students use mathematics and logic to understand complex systems. Traditional subjects that are often regarded as boring by many students, come alive with simulations and project-based learning. We are creating a culture of geniuses.”
“It guides students like a video game. When you have completed your lessons, you level up, and you earn your points. So, it is kind of like a mini-economy we have created. Our goal here is that we create a culture of excellence where there are expectations, and we invest these students in a rich learning environment,” Olaya explained. “We have had tremendous outcomes with our students because we have such high expectations. The curriculum we train is very participatory. You don’t just passively listen to someone. They are actively engaged and are applying knowledge, which becomes meaningful and relevant. They far exceed what you think they are capable of.”
“It is like a Chucky Cheese for learning,” Michael said with a grin! “They love coming here because of the environment. They have great access to mentors and community. We have had tremendous outcomes with our students because we have such high expectations. The Dexter curriculum is designed to prepare learners for the digital age. Learners don’t memorize facts or cram for exams, instead they develop intuition and understanding through a process-based curriculum.”
Dexter has the goal of digital literacy for their students. “We are going to prepare these kids for the future, for this digital age where you have things like artificial intelligence, 3D printers, robotics and automations. These things have progressed so quickly, and our educational system has not caught up with it. We are creating a new literacy, so we use computer programming as the new literacy. We use computer programming to explore all topics, which is really powerful because it creates this process based on understanding,” he said.
“This is a whole new way of thinking, that the promise of education is not about memorizing facts. Humans aren’t just receptacles that you fill with knowledge and push down the assembly line. Humans are more like a flame that you spark, and all the things that we are teaching our students are like lenses to look at reality. What this does do for the student is like giving them a different pair of glasses to see through. We are creating this high-tech community full of geniuses that can really have a pretty awesome impact on the future,” Michael said. “Our mission is to raise the level of global intelligence.”
Community is also one of the core values at Dexter. They provide scholarships to approximately one third of their members to foster an inclusive environment regardless of socioeconomic backgrounds.
The Dexter team has also partnered with Fain Elementary School to create an integrated learning environment, a maker space that is used daily by the students. Fain is a Project Based Learning campus filled with passionate educators willing to innovate. Dexter created custom adjustable height tables, brought in giant bean bags, and an internet connected smart flat screened TV, artificial turf, and powered it with Dexter curriculum.
Students at Dexter Technology Park write programs that they can print on the 3D printer that is available. There is also a laser printer on site. Their hours of business are 8:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m. Monday through Saturday. Students can participate on a 3-tier level. Two hours per week, six hours per week or unlimited access for a fee.
To Michael, Dexter isn’t just a job, it is a revolutionary concept. Those students with just a traditional education may not be prepared for the reality of the world when they graduate. “You want to know that if you put a kid through the system, that you are going to get the intended output, but some slip through the cracks of the system.” Michael wants to remove that chance that your child is not prepared for the digital age. He and his team want to have an impact and meaning on our community one child at a time.
Dexter Learning recently announced some big news on their Facebook page.
“Big news for the Texoma community! We have officially raised $100,000 from the Launch fund based in Silicon Valley. Thank you to our customers and the entire community for the support these past two years. This strategic funding will help grow and support our full-time innovation school in downtown Wichita Falls, TX for ages 8-18”
– Cindy Kahler Thomas