Have you ever wondered how to craft the perfect engaging STEM experience for children? In this article, I will outline the steps for you to make your own creative programs, whether it be an online, local, or international initiative.
On April 25th, I presented at the FIRST Detroit World Championship for a second time. Since many of my fellow STEM fanatics could not attend the conference and have been asking for my Powerpoint slides, I decided to post an in-depth article covering the content that my presentation did instead so that many could refer to it and hopefully benefit from it. This content is geared towards STEM educators and mentors, especially those on a high school robotics team who want to promote STEM to young people.
I am an 18-year-old STEM educator, roboticist, and entrepreneur. Last year, I graduated from Troy High School and was a student on FRC Team 4384. Now, I am taking a gap year and mentoring over 30 robotics teams. If you'd like to learn more about what I've been up to, check out this fantastic article by Fabbaloo.
Spreading STEM to your community can be done in other ways than through physical events or by breaking the bank. There are many applications that are nonphysical, less time consuming, or that could suit your goals better. I would like to share some creative economical and time-saving ways to benefit your community. It is possible to create remarkable programs by utilizing the resources that you have. This article is the first part in a two-part series and will cover how to determine your goals.
Thinking Outside of the Box: Embracing your Goals
The key to creating amazing STEM education is to embrace your goals and use them as a force behind content development. However, where do you start if you haven't honed in on your ideal goals? Using my goals as an example, I am hoping to give you a springboard to develop your own ideas.
My goal as an educator is to be a consistent resource. What does this mean? Introducing students to STEM isn't enough. I strive to reach beyond a mere introduction and provide frequent touchpoints for students to learn and become proficient in STEM.
Why is this my goal?
Kids can better understand STEM with more touchpoints
Interest doesn't equal proficiency
I wanted to better meet community STEM needs
I value relationships with my community versus seeing STEM education as a task to be completed
Being a "consistent resource" is my main goal, but two other goals I have are:
Kids deserve representation (my content will always be diverse)
Accessible STEM education is important (I won't overcharge for events)
These goals guide every single activity or event that I put my time into. Here are a few major examples of projects that I have started to better my community through STEM:
The STEAM Connection: While mentoring and working with countless robotics teams, I discovered that while one-time outreach programs increase STEAM awareness, they don't provide the ongoing activities to make a lasting impact. For this reason, I decided to start with 5 STEAM coloring books that can be used by kids all over the world because they don't have words or numerals. I originally developed these books with the intent to supplement FRC 4384s outreach program and to give students who travel during summer break an opportunity to spread STEAM values easily. Our goal is to be a sustainable and consistent resource to our global STEAM community through accessible education.
Every Kid Gets a Robot: A robot developed for $18.95 to supplement a robotics teams lesson plan in an affordable manner. Our global STEM community has banded together to help with 3D printing and distribution.
STEM Skills Camp: I put on a STEM camp for 40 elementary aged students. This camp was a consistent resource because I put it on for students I worked with already in the community and for families who were subscribed to my Weekly STEM Educational Newsletter. To emphasize STEM proficiency I taught STEM writing and presenting skills beyond basic mechanical and electrical engineering skills. This event stood out due to the variance of topics covered.
STEM Field Trips: I frequently take students that I work with on field trips to robotics competitions. This not only increases their engagement and interest but also their likelihood to be more invested in their learning.
Benzene Buddies: This is a weekly STEM educational and tutoring club for kids at Martell Elementary School that I started in 2017 with 35 kids. This camp stood out because it was weekly and emphasized science skills. It has since then morphed into Baker Buddies.
Home-Visits: Since I work with so many robotics teams, I will visit many of their houses every single day during their season and help them however they need it. I also will put on mock presentation practices and mock robot inspection days for the kids.
Student Involvement: I have been blessed to have many opportunities to speak at conferences and teach classes for companies. I take robotics students with me to present with me or volunteer with me. For example, I took student Dakshesh Daruri with me to Dallas, TX to present with me at SOLIDWORKS World on Every Kid Gets a Robot. We also had the opportunity to bring The STEAM Connection books to the Dallas Children's Health Center. Including 16-year-old Dakshesh in this opportunity has increased in STEM interest and engagement, as well as his CAD proficiency.
For the sake of length, I have only touched on a few examples. Despite these being personal goals and how I have fulfilled them, I believe that my examples will continue to solidify in your mind that there are creative goals and options to educate others in STEM.
Sometimes, especially as a new organization, determining what goal suits your team or organization best is very difficult. When I started the business team for FRC 4384 in 2017 it took me months to determine what goals best suited the team. Here are a few example goals to get the ball rolling and to better pinpoint what is best for you. Remember, thinking outside of the box is both plausible and awesome!
Engage every learner, every day
Prioritize creative thinking
Teach readily usable technology skills
Introduce kids to STEM
Promote girls in STEM
Provide free STEM education for community
Promote future engineers
Inspire kids to pursue a secondary education
Hone in on your Goals: Exercise
This exercise helps you realize what is the best use of your time and assists with future outreach planning through an identified brand. It also helps you establish your goals and stay focused on priorities.
For example, if I were to use this exercise on myself I would write down things such as Every Kid Gets a Robot, the community classes that I teach, mentoring FIRST teams, The STEAM Connection, my published content, Benzene Buddies, volunteering, speaking engagements, company partnerships, etc.
If I were to place my content into three different categories, they would be:
Consistent Resource in STEM (Benzene Buddies, community classes, etc)
Accessible STEM Education (The STEAM Connection, Every Kid Gets a Robot, etc)
STEM Role Model (speaking engagements, volunteering, etc)
My current goals have largely derived from these categories. This exercise helps me stay focused. For example, I have been asked to participate in events that don't align with my goals. While the events may be awesome, I sadly don't have the time to do every event that comes my way. Picking events that align with my goals helps me spend my time productively and ultimately help even more people.
Rephrasing the categories for a team, the categories would be:
We are a Consistent Resource to our Community
We Guarantee to Create Accessible STEM Education for our Community
I recommend doing this activity with others in your organization. Also, if you are interested in personal brand development, this is an awesome activity to help develop that.
I hope that this article has helped you better hone in on your team's goals so that you can produce better content that suits your STEM message. Part two is up! Learn more about idea conceptualization and planning strategies there!