STEM for a Day
Field Trips, Workshops, and Classes Designed to Inspire
Piquing a child’s interest in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) doesn’t require a big commitment. Sometimes it can happen in an instant when a child realizes: “I can make that!”
One activity that really engages students when they visit Empow Studios’ Lexington location is LEGO ‘robot sumo wrestling.’ “The objective is to use a combination of stability, friction, and coding to push the opponent’s robot out of the ring,” says Empow Outreach Director David Gutierrez.
LEGO figures are also a popular draw for the stop-motion animation workshops, which teach kids how to create animation videos using a variety of materials, including LEGO blocks and clay.
“Our workshops and classes, which we hold at various locations around the greater Boston area, teach kids about robotics, animation, coding, video game design, 3D printing, Minecraft, and electronic music,” says Gutierrez, who points out that kids can learn a lot in a short amount of time. “It’s really amazing what students are able to create in the span of a few hours.”
STEM Focused Field Trips
Traditional school field trips are wonderful educational experiences. Students often visit museums, parks or exhibits and remember these educational interactions for years. Now, there is an increasing effort to immerse students in STEM experiences.
“When students take a field trip to our Lexington studio, they learn to design, build and code some of the coolest projects that bring out their creativity and make important concepts stick, both in and out of the classroom,” notes Gutierrez.
At Empow Studios, instructors offer hands-on project-based activities that connect to classroom curriculum, which are a proven and effective way to increase retention and engage students. The concept is that teaching STEM to students is most effective if kids channel their inner curiosity and creativity, and feel empowered. To accomplish this, instructors emphasize ‘playful learning.’
“This idea isn’t new,” says Bernardo Feliciano, M.Ed., Empow’s Director of Curriculum. “Dewey’s instrumentalism, Piaget’s constructivism, and Papert’s constructionism maintain that passions, perceptions, and experience play a crucial role in how a person builds and maintains his or her understanding of the world. Even in the supposedly coldly rational world of STEM, love and play drive learning. They are what makes our lives meaningful, worthwhile, and fun. That’s where we start.”
Designing a Lesson
The goal is to make subjects like computer science, mechanical engineering, and digital art compelling by engaging students in projects that they can immerse themselves in. When an educator or organization’s staff plans a trip or schedules a workshop with Empow Studios, they can have it align with desired educational goals. “We do our best to tailor each field trip and workshop to the school’s curriculum or an organization’s desired theme,” says Gutierrez. “For example, if students are visiting the Lexington Historical Society to learn about the revolutionary war, kids can come to Empow to depict certain story-lines by creating an animation.” Empow offers a variety of options to choose from:
Animation: Students often have stories to tell. The Animation module allows kids to become writers, directors and videographers. Recently, the Bolton, MA library opted for the ‘Animation’ module because staff felt it worked well with their summer reading theme – ‘Building a Better World” – by encouraging the kids to create the stories they envisioned. During that program, students explored a variety of topics and created their own stop-motion animations by the end of the workshop.
Robotics: Teaching students how to build things has becoming a common goal among educators who are working to promote STEM careers. Robotics is one of the best ways to inspire kids because of the inherent fun that robots offer. Building and operating robots using LEGO Mindstorms technology offers students an opportunity to learn how gears, motors and programming can combine to create pieces that come alive. Empow instructors offer kids a variety of challenges to inspire them to build and program the strongest robots possible.
3D Modeling & Printing: 3D printing is revolutionizing design by allowing anyone with the technology to instantly create and print a physical object. Educators instruct kids to design specific products or use their imaginations. During trips or workshops, students can explore the design process, operate a 3D printer, design an item, and have their final creations delivered to their schools.
Electronic Music Production: This module offers a way to complement the standard school music programs. Students need no previous experience playing instruments to make amazing tunes and soundscapes using the latest technology.
Coding: Empow offers students fun, engaging programs to teach both SCRATCH and JAVA. Instructors work to make the module engaging by incorporating challenges that involve the creation of games and moving animations so that students can see progress as they program.
Video Game Design: Designing video games is a popular way to teach students about computer programming. Educators can work with Empow Studios to design specific missions for the kids. Fun themes might involve space, the wilderness,rescue missions or other themes chosen by educators or students.
Minecraft: Minecraft has many educational applications. Students can build electrical circuits, design architecture, or learn to mod using block-based coding software. Educators can choose the activity, and Empow instructors will adapt it to Minecraft.
Building STEM Communities
To boost STEM options in a variety of communities, Empow Studios is currently teaching classes and workshops at more than 50 schools, libraries and partner organizations. The curriculum is designed for children in grades 1-8.
“It’s our goal to reach as many communities as we can to bring STEM enrichment to local schools, libraries, parks & recreation centers, community centers, and community education departments,” says Gutierrez.
Classes scheduled around the greater Boston area typically focus on one subject area, and last from 8-14 weeks. These are held before school, during school, or after-school. Workshops are single sessions, and generally last 90-120 minutes each, where kids complete a more manageable project.
Educators are invited to learn more about field trips to Empow Studios and outreach efforts at our Field Trips and Outreach pages. Weekend clubs and classes are also offered year-round at our Lexington Studio. To learn more about the variety of February vacation, April vacation and summer camps taught throughout Massachusetts, please visit our Camp page.