You don’t have to be a technologist to know what STEM is. These days, you see STEM everywhere you turn around. Science, Technology, Engineering and Math. Some even add Art and make it STEAM. Whatever you call it, it’s critical for our kids to advance in this technology focused world. It doesn’t have to be all work though. There are some great resources that make learning STEM more fun then you can imagine.
Our school is blessed with two amazing teachers, Noreen and Shelly, who are dedicated and excited about teaching young kids technology! Once a week, they spend a few extra hours helping the kids in our Jr Robotics Club. The club is open to kids 1st-3rd grade, boys and girls. Yesterday, I took an hour out of my day to spend some time assisting. It was so exciting to see how many young kids were excited and engaged with the robots they played with. Especially as a woman in IT, it was exciting to see how many girls were involved as well!
Initially, they focused on the early LEGO robotics as they were gearing up to participate in the FIRST Lego League Jr showcase in December. Our school had 4 teams create a “working LEGO project”. They had to create and build something that moved using the LEGO motors that related to this years theme on waste and recycling. My 7-year old son’s team, Tough LEGO Town, built a can recycling conveyor belt. They take their creation, along with a poster that shows their ideas, to a competition where they are interviewed by volunteer judges. As a parent it was thrilling to see them explain their creation and demonstrate it at such a young age. Another critical skill they’re practicing is working in groups, this is something many adults still don’t do well! Certainly nothing like what I was doing in 1st Grade!
Since the competition was over, and the kids still wanted to learn about robot and technology, the teachers have continued meeting once a week after school. The group grew from 24 to about 40 once the word got out. They break the kids into groups and have different stations for each group to work on. Here’s an example of what they’re using in our club to engage and excite:
Scratch and Scratch Jr
Using iPads or Laptops, the kids can code using Scratch. If you haven’t checked out Scratch, you should! Scratch was developed at MIT and is a great way to get kids using their creativity and thinking skills. They can create stories, animations, games, music and art, just the way they want it. You can start using Scratch on a PC or Mac at scratch.mit.edu or you can download the Scratch Jr app on a tablet. This is a great one to do at home too! My kids love to share their creations with their friends!
LEGO WeDo 2.0
The LEGO WeDo is the beginner version of their Mindstorm robotics. The build instructions are easy, and the software you use to program is very simple! The newest release just came out in January (too late for Christmas unfortunately). WeDo 2.0 is geared towards 2nd through 4th grade, though with parent help Kinder and 1st will also enjoy! The core kit comes with 280 bricks, a SmartHub power block, 2 motors, a motion sensor, storage tray, programming software and examples! You can see more in the video below. WeDo 2.0 is available for $159.95 from LEGO Education here, this is definitely on my Christmas list. We’re currently using the original WeDo sets, but the 2.0 looks like so much more fun!
If you have older kids, 4th and up, you might also want to look at the LEGO Mindstorm EV3. My 4th grader competes in the regional FIRST Lego League competition for Houston this weekend, and they use the EV3 robot. You can read more about their experience with FLL here.
Dash & Dot
Wonder Workshop’s Dash & Dot are controlled by an app on your phone or tablet. You can program them using a visual block based app, or you can play one of the games that are available. Along with movements, sounds and lights, you can purchase accessories such as a Xylophone that Dash can play.
Sphero is an app controlled robot that allows you to program with visual blocks, then see the actual c-based code that you wrote. Our school has the Sphero SPRK Edition, which is fun since you can see what’s inside and how it works.
Family STEM Time
While all of these robots and programs are very useful in schools to aid in their STEM curriculum, we shouldn’t just limit technology teaching to school. These robots and games make learning fun, and it’s just as easy to have fun at home with mom and dad! They make excellent birthday and Christmas gifts for the kids who have everything! Grandparents love to buy educational items, instead of just video games. Take some time, invest in the future of tech, and watch your child’s face light up with joy!