Sunday, August 11, 2013

On Mission: Making STEM fun and real



"Thank you, it was a very fun and educational camp", said a 3rd grade student. 

The best part about STEM For Kids’ programs is “getting the students to finally think critically pertaining to real world situations.“, a K-8 public school teacher in North Carolina.

“… campers left with a better appreciation of the structures around them as well as the importance to communicate and work together.”, STEM For Kids' STEM Coach in a blog about life of a STEM Coach.

These and numerous other feedbacks from parents, campers and educators encourage us and help us make continuous improvement towards our two-fold mission of making STEM fun and real. 

With 7 months of 2013 already under our belts, we asked ourselves, how are we doing in progress towards our mission? 

Many of my past colleagues from industry and corporations ask me, “I know my stuff, I am an expert in what I do … however, how do I explain it to kids in a fun way?” Yet, as I discussed in my earlier post The Big Bang Theory of STEM, fun is an important and critical ingredient of a STEM program geared for kids. Results from our camper survey shows that STEM For Kids’ (SFK) is excelling on this front … 

99% of SFK program participants report they had fun with STEM in SFK programs. Thanks to our innovative curricula that is uniquely designed by engineers and people in industry to bring complex engineering/business concepts to a child’s level while engaging them with hands-on activities and challenges. In our programs, children build poppers, the stopping droids, Avatars, windy cars, robots, design bridges and skyscrapers, launch rockets, play action-reaction tag, race their gators, and a lot more. 


On the REAL front, we observed a 30% percent point improvement in children’s knowledge of how science is used outside school after they participated in a STEM For Kids’ 7 day camp.
Making strong connections to the real world is a priority as stated in our organization’s mission.  In the end, we are striving to get children prepared for life skills for the real world. Our program participants experience 3Cs of critical thinking, collaboration and communication; they budget, manage to time constraints, work in teams, use technology as a tool, conceptualize ideas and share with others.

Selected guest speakers in SFK programs are bolstering our efforts by bringing industry perspectives to further feed campers’ curiosity. Recently young minds in grades K-5 made a connection between their robotic creations and NASA’s Curiosity mission to Mars through an exciting presentation by NASA Solar System Ambassador, Marc Fusco.  Read News and Observer reporting of the event here.

We know our steps are in the right direction and we have a long journey ahead of us …

By: Moni Singh, Founder and CEO, STEM for Kids, LLC. Mrs. Singh offers a unique perspective on innovation in education through her three lenses: as a mother of elementary age children strongly focused on making STEM fun for kids; as an engineer and a technologist who has brought several technologies to the market, from wireless phones to smart meters; and as a business leader who understands through her work across global organizations that success in the 21st century requires skills in addition to pure technical competence. 
You can find her at LinkedIn, Twitter, and Facebook.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

NASA Ambassador to talk to robotics campers

At STEM for Kids we strive to engage campers in the various applications of STEM while giving them a unique, industry perspective. Thanks to the to NASA Solar System Ambassador program, we are able to go above and beyond our normal business mindset.
Solar System Ambassador, Marc Fusco.

Raleigh's new 2013 Ambassador, Marc Fusco will be coming to STEM for Kids' North Raleigh location next week during our robotics camp to talk to campers about space technology and help them understand the applications of robots in space exploration. We are very excited to have Mr. Fusco with us next week and even more excited about giving our kids this type of opportunity.

Fusco will be speaking sometime next week (July 29-Aug. 2) in our North Raleigh Location at our Robotics camp. More details to come.

Life of a STEM Coach: Building more than just bridges



Campers in Cary's Civil Engineering Camp collaborating on building weight bearing, newspaper bridges.


Trey Ferguson, STEM Coach

As we have hit the ground running this summer, I had suggested SFK start a STEM Coach blog posting. This could be a way for parents to get a brief recap of the topics covered in their child's week while also getting some feedback and opinion from the coaches.

This week I was exploring "strong and stable" structures in Cary's Civil Engineering Camp. Throughout the week, we had campers from all grade levels determining the definition of "strong and stable." Campers learned the concept of gravity and its effect on the buildings they see every day, as well as the impact various shapes have on civil structures. Using this same understanding, campers saw different examples of bridges and how they work.

Some of the different projects included building truss bridges, constructing skyscrapers on a budget, and crafting bridges out of newspaper. These hands-on activities reinforce how shapes and various forces impact different structures. If you don't believe me, I had a parent come in one morning and tell me that their child had explained to them while driving into camp that truss bridges are "strong and stable, because the triangles used to build them."

But putting the formal learning aside, campers engaged in an even more important skill--collaboration. Throughout the week campers had to work together in group to construct their structures. This gives them all a common goal and interest. When this happens campers (on their own) begin communicating with their peers about relevant civil engineer topics. From there the conversations expand to the structures they see everyday.

An important common core standard being emphasized to educators is the ability for their students to discuss "relevant topics" in whatever grade level they are in. That is exactly what transpired during this week of camp. Pre-schoolers talking with fourth graders about the way arch bridge distribute weight is a very weird conversation to overhear. However, it demonstrated their understanding.

On the end of the week surveys each camper takes, many of them commented that they enjoyed "making new friends," or learned "how to make friends." This networking component made this camp even more relevant to campers' lives. So after many hot glue gun experiences (solely on my part), campers left with a better appreciation of the structures around them as well as the importance to communicate and work together.

Sunday, June 9, 2013

Congress, Cool Air and Computer Science for K-5



“If you want to work in an air-conditioned environment, computer science is the way to go.” 

I got this advice when I was deciding on an engineering field of study among the many possible choices, Civil, Mechanical, Industrial, etc. It was enticing for someone living in the 120 degrees Fahrenheit scorching heat of Delhi without access to air-conditioning. If that reason was not good enough, computer science held the promise of jobs involving creation of the most cutting-edge technologies. Creating something totally new … now that was quite a motivator.

I decided for computer science and was blessed with opportunities to create many new technologies … from enabling wireless telephony and satellite communications to bringing data to cellphones. 

Two decades later, the potential for exciting jobs still remains. Moreover, “Degrees and Jobs” image (source: CSTA – The National Imperative for K-12 Computer Science Education) below depicts the shortage of Computer Science graduates needed to fill the computing related jobs in the US.  



Computer science and the technologies that it enables are integral part of our lives today.  With digitization, our world, our work environments and our workforce have seen significant transformations. 
For our children to be prepared for the 21st century, some foundational computer science skills and knowledge are needed whether or not they eventually decide to pursue a career in computer science. Just like the foundational skills of math and literacy, computer science education needs to start with elementary ages. I have highlighted the need for early STEM exposure in my prior blog, the Big Bang Theory of Early STEM.

Our Congress, demonstrating leadership on this front, is debating on the creation of a STEM Education and Training Account. The stated purposes of this account are (source: http://www.govtrack.us/congress/bills/113/s744):

(i) strengthening STEM education, including in computer science, at all levels; 
(ii) ensuring that schools have access to well-trained and effective STEM teachers; 
(iii) supporting efforts to strengthen the elementary and secondary curriculum, including efforts to make courses in computer science more broadly available; and 
(iv) helping colleges and universities produce more graduates in fields needed by American employers.
 
Notice that two of the listed purposes specifically mention making computer science available at the elementary level. 

We, at STEM For Kids, have been focusing on making STEM fun and real for kids. We are excited about our line-up of innovative STEM programs that include programs in Computer Science:

  1. Taste of Computer Science
  2. Critical Thinking and Gaming
  3. Robotics
  4. Computers and Communication
  5. Game Making Lab – coming soon

Through camps and collaboration with different school districts, we are furthering the fun of STEM to K-5 children in and outside schools. 

What are your thoughts on making computer science programs accessible for elementary kids?
Follow the discussion further and share your thoughts on BlogSpot, Facebook and Twitter.

By: Moni Singh, Founder and CEO, STEM for Kids, LLC. Mrs. Singh offers a unique perspective on innovation in education through her three lenses: as a mother of elementary age children strongly focused on making STEM fun for kids; as an engineer and a technologist who has brought several technologies to the market, from wireless phones to smart meters; and as a business leader who understands through her work across global organizations that success in the 21st century requires skills in addition to pure technical competence. 
You can find her at LinkedIn, Twitter, and Facebook.

Sunday, May 19, 2013

The Big Bang Theory of STEM …




A recent episode of the Big Bang Theory got me thinking about the impact of childhood experiences in Science and Technology.


The main characters, Leonard and Sheldon are brilliant physicists, the kind of "beautiful minds" that understand how the universe works. In this particular episode they meet Professor Proton. They grew up watching Professor Proton's science shows on TV and reminisce how the Professor has been an inspiration for them and several others like them who are innovating, discovering new frontiers of science, engineering and technology. 

Childhood exposure to STEM can have a lasting impact.  I have always believed in exposing children to STEM fields early ... Belief and popular anecdotes aside. Research suggests the same. 

A Microsoft commissioned research of K-12 parents shows that children develop interest in STEM fields at an early age, at an average age of 8. That’s on an average during 2nd or 3rd grade. A leading researcher in the area of cognitive abilities of elementary age children, Dr. Kathleen Metz of University of California Berkeley says “Powerful early learning in science opens up the possibility of attaining a much more powerful scientific understanding at a higher grade.”

So, timing of exposure is important. Also important is how those experiences are delivered. In a survey conducted by Harris Interactive, STEM college majors were asked what can parents and schools do to help kids and teens become interested in STEM? As you can see in the word cloud, their clear message is make STEM fun and interesting.


Image Source: STEM Perceptions: Student & Parent Study by Harris Interactive Commissioned by Microsoft Corp.

Thankfully, today, some children have the option to engage with and experience the fun side of science and technology at an early age. When selecting the right program, always remember that STEM without the 21st century skills is like putting colors in air (no canvas)!  For the colors of STEM to take effect, you need the canvas of 21st century skills of Communications, Collaboration and Critical Thinking.

What has been your experience with early exposure to STEM for your child? Leave a comment and share with us.

Follow the discussion further and share your thoughts on Facebook and Twitter.

By: Moni Singh, Founder and CEO, STEM For Kids, LLC. You can reach Moni at Twitter: @EngineerSTEM and Facebook: STEMForKids