What would you teach kids at a STEM Conference?

by MauiMaker on Sun Mar 04, 2012 1:03 pm

I've got two hours at the upcoming Hawaii STEM Conference. I hav my own ideas but thought I'd ask for some inputs.
http://www.womenintech.com/HawaiiSTEMConference/

This could/should include some hands-on exercise. Given my public statements, I'm inclined to say something about Art and Design in Engineering.
Jerry Isdale
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Re: What would you teach kids at a STEM Conference?

by ahdavidson on Sun Mar 04, 2012 5:47 pm

Jerry,

A few thoughts and principles come to mind...

If your audience is high school girls, I would say that two areas resonate with them.

One is real-world applications of engineering and CS other than games, animation, and highly competitive activities. Using STEM to solve problems in the natural sciences or social sciences is good. Robotics for prosthetics, analyzing DNA, developing collaborative online tools, etc.

Another area I've found really good is wearable electronics and e-textiles (that go beyond Tron suits). LilyPad, naturally. I showed a few of those to students in my Intro to CS class and the next thing I knew, two seniors are making an interactive banned with LEDs for their senior project: http://goo.gl/mRDNk!

And, definitely, as you mentioned, don't have people just lecturing and showing slides. Have them MAKE STUFF and DO THINGS. High school kids need hands-on engagement to relate!

Have fun,
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Re: What would you teach kids at a STEM Conference?

by westfw on Mon Mar 05, 2012 2:42 am

One of the things that I've noticed missing from my own kids' otherwise honors-track education is some of the "optional" math things. If it's not on the state curricula or on the AP and other standardized tests, it's pretty much not taught. That includes things like vector/matrix algebra, imaginary and complex numbers, boolean algebra, set theory, transfinites, and even alternate number bases. I think some of those would work at some level, for a conference-like setting.

It's SO hard explaining bitmasks to an adult that never learned alternate number bases...
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Re: What would you teach kids at a STEM Conference?

by ahdavidson on Mon Mar 05, 2012 8:14 am

You're right -- when I started teaching high school (just a few years ago), I was kind of amazed that otherwise excellent students (AP Calc BC) had not learned binary arithmetic.

One assignment I gave them in my intro CS class was, using an Arduino with LEDs, make a binary counter.

There are some good lessons out there for doing this without computers, too: CS Unplugged.
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Re: What would you teach kids at a STEM Conference?

by westfw on Mon Mar 05, 2012 12:22 pm

the MATH part of STEM is so "core", and to me so much easier to "get" in an instructor-led environment. You can find all sorts of DIY tutorials for engineering and technology. Math, not so much.

Furthermore, having been exposed to, say, polar coordinates (another neglected topic I didn't mention in my first list) at an early age will make it SO much easier when you come across them in college calculus, physics, or engineering, "for real." Even if that exposure is just an hour's worth of "look at the neat shape this trivial equation generates."
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Re: What would you teach kids at a STEM Conference?

by zenwebb on Mon Mar 05, 2012 1:48 pm

I'm not saying that the above advice isn't bad, but I do want to point out that some kids are going to find math interesting, and some aren't. A lot of it, in my opinion, comes from their previous experiences before coming to your conference. Personally, I was the kind of kid that just 'tuned out' whenever equations started popping up on the screen, even if the instructor was entertaining. I like math when it is coupled with a broader topic - for example, I may not like sitting down and solving physics equations for no other reason than to have an answer written down. I do, however, really enjoy solving math when it produces numbers that I can pop into a CAD program and make something real.

Therefore, it would seem to me that to appeal to the widest range of audiences, your workshop should have (like you said) a strong hands-on component that is clearly outlined at the beginning. That way, students who might be discouraged by any math topics may be able to look forward to its application.

Something like a MakerBot would be hugely engaging for students. Teach them about how it works and how to make a really simple 3D object like a cube or a sphere (Technology), then have them each try to change something about it to see what it does, like making it hollow, change the thickness of the walls, break it into pieces, etc (Engineering). If the groups (and models) are small enough, maybe you can print each of their models out (make them small enough that you can print them all at once on a platform). Then they can learn about the effects of their alterations, like structural integrity and bounciness and so on.

How about each student gets a high-brightness LED, and their little 3D printed shape is a diffuser that they can glue on and wear around for the rest of the conference? Buy a few of these kits and help the kids glue their hollow shape onto the LED: https://www.adafruit.com/products/496

Anyway, there are thousands of things you can do, hopefully you can work out something easy and fun for everyone. Let us know how it goes!
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Re: What would you teach kids at a STEM Conference?

by westfw on Tue Mar 06, 2012 4:31 am

How about each student gets a high-brightness LED, and their little 3D printed shape is a diffuser that they can glue on and wear around for the rest of the conference?

For high school students who explicitly decided to attend a STEM conference? That's practically insulting. (ok. It' s s pet-peeve of mine that there is plenty of "introductory" STEM material, for, say, bright 8-y olds, and not nearly enough for intermediate to advanced older kids. It's a slap in the face. "Yes, you did your little water rocket in 2nd grade. I'm sorry but you'll need local Fire Marshal approval to use "real" model rockets, and a BATF license (must be 18) to do amateur rocketry. I hope you live on a ranch..." "Your interest in chemistry is nice, but actual glassware is considered "drug paraphernalia", and you don't want to know what we think about actual *chemicals*!")

Teach them EAGLE (or KiCAD, or whatever), have them design their own 555 or 556 PCB, and see if you can find someone with an LPKF or similar to load you to churn them out by the end of the day...
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