Growing up, I didn’t like science… at least, I didn’t think I liked science. I spent more time trying to find the silliest-named elements on the periodic table than memorizing atomic weights and numbers, and the darkest days of my academic career occurred during a 10th grade honors Biology class—I stuck to non-honors chemistry the next year and didn’t even take science during my senior year. But as it turns out, a lot of the things I had been interested in ever since I was very young were crucially connected to science. As a child during the heyday of Jurassic Park, I was obsessed with dinosaurs and often dove into books well above my reading level to find out as much as I could about the latest dinosaur discoveries. I have always been deeply fascinated by space exploration (thanks, Star Wars!) and spent more time with Super Mario than most of my flesh-and-blood friends. I built websites about my favorite bands and anime series as a teenager and, due to probably the least dangerous peer pressure ever, took some computer networking classes in high school. But I didn’t like science.
These days, STEM is all the rage in education and afterschool circles. STEM may seem like another goofy acronym (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics), but it’s much more than that: it’s a way of thinking. When you wake up each day, you hit the snooze alarm on your clock—that’s technology. An engineer used math and science to design your coffee maker. The traffic lights angrily blocking your path to work are robots. Your car is kind of a scientific miracle. You sit all day at a computer running complex equations that you never even know about. Even the clothes you wear, the food you eat and chair you sit in all day are marvels of modern science—you just have to think about them that way. In the Brockbank Jr. High Afterschool program, we offered two STEM-related classes during the first quarter of the school year: SpyHop (where the kids learned to make video games and film special effects) and Science Blast, a general science class complete with mentos/diet coke rockets and borax bouncy balls, but we incorporated STEM-thinking into as many activities as we could. Our Snack Attack class could easily have been called “Chemistry with Food,” and art activities like scrapbooking and haunted house building (yes, we built a haunted house) required spatial measuring and critical thinking—sounds like science to me. As we progress through the school year, we have some big STEM plans, including Lego Robotics (because there is really nothing cooler than building your own robot), a math-centered interior design class we’re calling Extreme Afterschool Makeover, engineering challenges like egg drops and a lot more.
The goal with STEM learning isn’t to trick kids into enjoying science, but to get them to think about the world around them in a more science-centric way—even if we’re camouflaging it a little bit. One of the most important skills I learned when I started working in Afterschool is that it’s okay not to know an answer—but it’s even more important to figure out and understand the answer. One of the staff members here at Brockbank Jr. High is terrified of bugs, so to alleviate that fear, she is learning as much about bugs as she can—you can’t be scared of something you understand, right? In the spring she will share her love/hatred of bugs with our program participants as well. This kind of adaptation is what we want the kids to be embracing. We want them to know that an actual person programmed their favorite app, their favorite musicians are using math to create their songs, and someone used math when designing their favorite shoes. Even though our students might think they don’t like science, they’re probably wrong—they just haven’t had a STEM revelation yet, but hopefully we can help them realize it.
For more information about Youth Services Afterschool Program call 385-468-4500 and ask for Danielle Latta.