For over 4 years our OpenLabs have provided a 3rd learning space outside of home and school where our middle and high school students explore and develop STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, and Math) projects that are meaningful, fun, hands-on, open-ended, and inspired by their own ideas.
We now offer two tracks:
1) Computer Programming for a Purpose–2D and 3D game development, making mobile apps, music, and web technologies; and
2) Cross-Functional Project Development—Hardware, Software, and Crafting Integration for electronics, digital fabrication, and robotics.
TechCo OpenLabs are open on Tuesday and Wednesday evenings from 6-8 pm. We’re actively seeking funding to allow us to extend our program to give additional lab hours and serve more students.
We want TechCo to be a place were students can be active participants in creative activities aided by access to the gadgets of this digital age.
Lack of access means lack of future opportunities. We want them to be excited about what they can do with new technologies, to be inspired to seek careers in STEM, to be more competitive in school, and to have a fair chance to succeed in a high tech job market.
As facilitator, we’re gaining some wonderful insight about STEAM learning in our labs:
- Hands-on learning is often messy and disorganized with lots of trial and error.
- We’re always amazed with the direction a project takes when you follow the interests of the students.
- It’s okay to have a direction, but throw away the detailed lesson plan. The journey is the most important part, and many times you end up somewhere else anyway.
- The more you mess up, the more you learn. Embrace the mistakes.
- “I don’t know, let’s google it” is often the best answer to a question if you’re not confident of the answer. Demonstrate the proper way to search for information online from trustworthy sources.
- If you create the right environment, the student will ask what he/she needs to know. Refrain from meaningless, unrelated facts. Remember, give the right tool (or answer) only at the right time (when needed to move the project forward).
- Students have more energy than you; you’ll need a break before they do.
- Sometimes it’s best not to answer questions that a student can get with a bit of trial and error. Leave the shortcuts for the student to figure out.
- Never push a student to do something they are not ready to do.
- Relax and have fun.
The challenge is to help our students prepare themselves for the learning environments of the future. Check out the following video.