Wednesday, August 2, 2017

Sensational Summer STEM Programs Delight and Educate

Can you name the parts of a computer? Isolate DNA from a strawberry? Program a robot to jump into a pool of water? You could answer a resounding "yes" if you were among the many kids who participated in our recent series of activities in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM).

Girl examining light red liquid in a plastic cupIn June and July, we introduced STEM Smart, a series of hands-on science sessions for ages 10-14 led by volunteers from Adventure in Science and the AAAS/SSE STEM Volunteer Program. Dozens of eager kids attended sessions in strawberry DNA extraction, disassembling computers to identify their parts and functions, kitchen chemistry, and chocolate making.

In mid-July, we also hosted a two-week robotics camp for girls aged 9-15, generously funded by the National Center for Women & Information Technology (NCWIT) and sponsored by Everybody Code Now! The robotics camp was taught by teen volunteers and was spearheaded by Cindy Shi, a high school student who is no stranger to STEM programming in the library. In the summer and fall of 2016, Shi taught two sessions of "Girls Just Want to Compute," a Python coding class, in the library's computer lab.

Group of children examining a computer parts and a dismantled computer
Can you identify all the parts of a computer? These kids can!
"Girls are underrepresented in computer science, so I wanted to break the stereotype that technology is only of interest to boys" Shi explained. "After leading the Python coding classes at the library, I learned that I have the ability to teach and wanted to give some girls a chance to try robotics."

Using Sphero Edu software, the girls learned to write programs to change the appearance and sounds of their Sphero bots, as well as chart each bot's course. Working in teams, they plotted a course for the bots that included running up a ramp into a tub of water, a feat that required them to determine the amount of momentum needed to clear the water.

Among the motivations volunteers have for offering hand-on science experiments is to engage and inspire young people to pursue education and careers in STEM fields. But the programs also give exposure to science as it is actually practiced, rather than as a set of theories or facts.
Boy holding up a beaker of clear liquid
According to STEM Smart instructor Venkatamaran Srinivasan, exploration is central to the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS). He notes that that science is more a process than a product, and that practicing scientists and engineers must learn to manage changing variables that affect the outcome of experiments.

The best part of STEM programs at the library, however, is that they're fun! After all, what's better than a science experiment you can eat or teaching a Sphero bot to swim?

Check out the video below for some highlights from our girls' robotics program, and stay tuned for more STEM programming throughout the year.