Saturday, August 22, 2015

Great Questions from Summer STEM Academy Participants


This has been my fourth summer facilitating technology-focused summer programs in our district. Sessions have included Photojournalism, Movie-Making, a Technology Academy, and, for the last two years, our STEM Academy. As technology and interests have changed, we have adjusted our program, and this summer we doubled the number of kids, grads 3-8, who participated. With each program, I've noticed that the children have great questions that help guide the program. Aside from questions about how to use materials and resources, here are some other questions that show kids are thinking...

1.  So now that I know what this does, what else can I do with this? This question is a great conversation starter. I usually give some examples, but I also ask lots of questions. I might ask, "What do you want to do with it?"  or "Is there something that you have in mind?" or I might say, "Tell me some of your interests and let's see if we can connect to ... ."

2.  How much does this cost? Kids, as it turns out, are not willing to spend a lot of money on gadgets, tools, etc. They might want to purchase an item they are using in our program, but they will not consider spending a lot of money if they don't think the item is worth it, even if they really like the item. They think about cost, asking parents, splitting the cost with a sibling, what else they are saving for, and upcoming holidays and birthday. These are not kids who just "want everything."

3.  What can I keep?  While the kids don't want everything, they do want something. We work on projects involving such materials as K'Nex and electronics. Some projects the children can take home, but others they have to disassemble and return to me. The children are obviously proud of their work and are slightly disappointed when they can't take home a project that they've spent several days working on. This is once again a great opportunity to have conversations that help these young children understand the materials they are using and the system within which they are working. It has allowed us to come up with solutions, such as taking photographs and video they CAN take with them. They've learned about how our district or an individual acquires materials and works within a budget. They've learned to document their work and how to post to a web site, and they've learned how to share materials and to care for materials that are used by others. When they work in pairs or groups, they don't need adult intervention to figure out what to do with finished projects. From youngest to oldest, the children learn to compromise in a most impressive manner. Their methods of deciding who gets what are very creative!

Understanding HOW to use STEM materials and resources and developing related skills is obviously a key component of our program. We do, however, want to help the children grow as leaders, which means encouraging discussions related to the above questions and others like them. We want the children to understand WHAT the materials are and to be able to make wise choices as consumers. We want them to think beyond our introductory lessons and to be able to test new ideas. We want them to ask us questions and to consider ideas that we might not have considered before and to be partners in this fantastic learning environment. Let's keep the questions coming!

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