For the first time ever, D-E 360° Summer Connections (SC) had the opportunity to launch programs that leveraged the rich resources of the newly built Hajjar STEM Center.
One such program was STEM Challenge. Featuring hands-on problem solving, logical reasoning, and teamwork, STEM Challenge brought nearly 70 SC campers in fifth through ninth grade together with teachers of computer science, art, and electronics to design original robotic creations that were “intended to execute a mission to collect scattered supplies on the surface of Mars.” Each student dove into learning the electronics, coding, and materials design skills to devise a robotic vehicle that could sense its surroundings and move lost supplies to a “safe storage area” on a mock-up of the red planet.
STEM Challenge was the creation of D-E 360° Director Dr. Sherronda Brown and D-E Director of Technology Trevor Shaw. Dr. Brown explains: “[Shaw] designed a daunting task, which was successfully navigated. Our STEM Challenge 2016 participants were asked to act as NASA robotics engineers who would design and build in teams robot prototypes that would land on Mars in advance of the 2030 manned mission to the Red Planet. Above all, our [campers] learned teamwork… [we] are looking ahead to next year’s challenge!” Shaw is also the founder and president of Genesis Learning, a consulting firm that he says “helps schools to leverage the power of technology as a learning tool.” In developing this summer program at D-E, he brought to bear his experience designing the technology infrastructures for D-E and other independent schools, as well as his passion for integrating technology into schools’ curricula.
STEM Challenge sparked an authentic experience by giving students real tools for making real electronic inventions, according to Shaw. “We cut wires, sawed wood and soldered components with the coaching and supervision of trained staff,” he explains. “The students learned to design circuits and write programs as they imagined something into existence. When they were finished, they had an electronic creation that they brought into the world. No one bought it for them or gave it to them. They owned it because they built it. They knew how every part of it operates,” he says. He adds, “Beyond the skills of coding and using tools, students learned to think deeply about how to solve a problem using technology. They applied strategies of design thinking, collaboration, and creativity to find the best of many possible paths to a solution.”
Sixth grader Helene George liked how STEM Challenge showed everyone how they can be creative in new technical ways. Fellow camper Andrew Tandler echoed this sentiment, noting, “I loved the teamwork and the amount of dedication we all put in!”
The process was rewarding for teachers as well. Says Shaw, “To be able to stand with a student as she works and struggles and then show her that you are genuinely impressed and excited by what she invented is a powerful thing.”