MOSCOW – Kids can jumpstart a passion for science, technology and math at the North Pocono Library.
STEM Saturday has been a popular activity at the library for about a year, thanks to a grant from the Office of Commonwealth Libraries.
STEM is the term used to refer to the topics of science, technology, engineering and mathematics.
One Saturday a month, children 6 to 12 years of age can experiment to their hearts' delight with different interactive kits that teach about electronics, robotics and more. The reaction from the kids has been positive.
“Right from the start, they were very excited with the kits,” said Terri Collins, who oversees the activity.
These kits can be cost prohibitive, so the grant was an important step in implementing the program. The kits are shared amongst the libraries in the Lackawanna County Library System so these programs can be brought to children throughout the region.
Most recently, kids built their own structures with the House Building Center. They are flat multicolored pieces that fit together, complete with hinges and window openings. The kids have a blast creating their own structures while also learning basic engineering principles.
Another popular toy is the Ozobot bit 2.0, a small round robot that teaches programming skills. Kids draw a track that the wheeled Ozobot follows using a color sensitive sensor. The colors drawn on the path tell the robot what to do.
“That is great even for the little ones because its just basically drawing a line. The robot follows the color and it does what the color tells it to do,” said Collins.
Snap circuits also present another fun and creative challenge. There are enclosed suggestions on how to assemble the plastic circuits to create an alarm, lights or send a spinning wheel into the air.
The kids still have the freedom to determine how it all goes together, while learning about the principles of electricity. Collins finds that the kids really enjoy the open-ended projects which allow for the most creativity and problem solving.
The various kits chosen for STEM Saturday are those that can be easily accomplished in the one hour session. Collins sees different kids on a month-to-month basis, so the emphasis is on a fun learning activity for one sitting.
In the summer, lessons will likely feature a nature theme. In the past, Collins has introduced the life cycle of the Monarch butterfly.
This early exposure to scientific principles gives children the opportunity to learn and gain appreciation for the STEM field, something that might translate into a lucrative career in the future.
According to a U.S. Department of Commerce study, STEM jobs have grown much more in recent years than all other jobs combined, and that growth is expected to spike in the coming years.
The inclusiveness of STEM Saturday has been beneficial in bringing in both young boys and girls.
Other recent studies covered the need for more women in STEM occupations. Although women comprise about half of the workforce, they represent only about 24% in STEM-related fields. There's a focus now on closing that gap in the future.
“I know that in the past girls have not traditionally been encouraged to go into science, technology, engineering and math,” said Collins. “I have had quite a few girls in the program and I’ve been encouraged by that because that’s where everything is going now.”
Perhaps starting early at the local library and playing with snap-together circuits, robots and programming skills will lead to further interest and a coveted career.
STEM Saturday is limited to about ten participants a month. Pre-registration is required so there are enough kits to go around.
You can register your child for the next STEM Saturday by calling Terri Collins at 570-842-4700.