STEAM workshops for the next generation of coders and makers

We’ve supported kids  workshops around STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts & Mathematics) in the past and just last week I was lucky to support another one. Since our first workshop, I made this a quarterly habit and traded my yearly educational trade fair visit for these workshops (thx SAPHybris for being a cool employer!). For me, that’s just way more inspiring and useful – for the kids, for me and hopefully it will help society at some point, too. So far I’ve not blogged much about these workshops, but I’m trying to do blog about this on a more regular basis from now. The key goal is of course to inspire a bunch of kids and teachers to have fun making and coding, therefore changing their future paths. But the more I emerge myself in coming up with a new cool workshop for school and executing on it, the more I realize how the classroom principles for a good and playful workshop also inspire myself in my day to day work. Playfulness, failing & retrying, collaboration, taking risk and teaching new skills are super important work skills in our business, too. So I really recommend this as an activity to try by yourself!

The last workshop was about the basics of electronics and coding for our year 3 students (~10 yrs old). For this, I’ve chosen two tactile STEAM activities: squishy circuits and osmo coding.  There are some good reasons to go with real, hands-on activities for learning, and the two activites fit nicely and keep the students engaged. This is probably also the reason, why many of us enjoy making, too!

Squishy Circuits
Invented by AnnMarie Thomas, who is now leading the playful learning lab at University of St. Thomas, the kids first created to pieces to dough: conductive and isolating dough. The recipes are not very hard and the ingredients pretty basic. The main difference is that the isolating dough uses sugar instead of salt (as salt increases the conductivity). Prepped with the two pieces of dough, we experimented with a few battery packs, colorful LEDs and motors. There’s tons to learn here. Why do we need a piece of isolating dough in between to conducting pieces? What is a short circuit? What is polarity to just name a few… The kids were super engaged and we had to actively make them stop to take a break. Luckily the dough lasts a while, so they can pull it out over the next weeks a few more times for new experiments. I think this workshop also shows nicely why the A  (like art) in STEAM really belongs there. The kids came up with hot-dog, LED-lid structures, created a “power bank” using multiple battery packs (thereby collaborating, too) and all kind of other fun creations.  I could not believe what they come up with!

Here are a few impressions:

Osmo Coding
The second part of the day, I introduced the kids to Osmo coding. Osmo consists of a variety of (free) software apps (for iPad only) and some extra ($) hardware for the various games. The iPad camera is redirected via a small mirror and the apps use image recognition to react to the elements that the kids place in front of the tablets. As we only had a few sets of Osmo, the kids also had to work in pairs and thereby learnt about teamwork, or, as we often call it “pair programing”. For this activity, the kids have to instruct the game character to walk and jump through a game world. They lay out the coding blocks such as “walk straight”, “jump right” and the number of repetitions in front of the tablet and then press the green go button. Osmo then detects the elements and the game character executes as the kids decided. The more the kids do in a single sequence, the more statements that they execute together, the more points they get which can be used to fill their garden.

I hope you like this little update, albeit it’s not about cool and new prototpyes or shows. I’d love to hear back from you – what do you think about these STEAM workshops? Do you have other interesting ideas for workshops? Something we should look into? You can either leave a comment or get in touch via Twitter.

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