I’ve always felt like STEM was out of reach for me. It wasn’t that I felt locked out of the party, like many women throughout history have been, I just never thought I would actually enjoy a job in any of those fields. Much like our guest writer Emily explained, I love the idea of more women working in STEM… but other women, not me. Just the thought of sorting through code or equations when I could be reading or writing makes my eyes glaze over.
Luckily, over the last couple years, I had the serendipitous opportunity to work at a lab that combines the hands-on approach of maker culture with consideration for the humanities. This job forced me to approach a lot of tasks that I had never really encountered before, but it allowed me to do so from the perspective of a humanities student. We were prototyping, yes, but with the goal of understanding more about history, culture, and theory. My experiences at the lab gave me a whole new level of interest in the field of STEM and, while I still don’t feel like it’s the field for me, I feel confident enough to approach coding or engineering for some very (VERY) basic projects. It’s opened the door to ideas that once felt impossible to even consider.
I’m particularly excited to learn about the accessibility of maker culture because I recently decided to pursue a career in teaching. The more I learn about in the world of making and prototyping, the more excited I am to implement these approaches when teaching.
If you look up the basics of circuit building online you will probably find a page that highlights all the tools and parts you will need to build a basic circuit. While this is incredibly helpful, for someone like me it’s also overwhelming. Even when approaching a much more accessible tool, like Arduino, circuit building can seem like something only experts should do.
That’s why I’m so thankful for kid-friendly tech companies who want to make this process simpler and more interesting for kids (and those of us with a child’s attention span for detail).
The first time I tried circuit building was with a Makey Makey, a kit that easily assembles into a simple circuit and allows you to use a variety of household items as computer keys (like food, pencil markings, and play dough).
I also brought it to work with me when I was running a summer kids program and got the kids to assemble it themselves. They loved the experience and were full of questions about why and how we could turn cucumber slices into a piano keyboard. I can only imagine how a simple circuitboard like the Makey Makey, or circuit stickers like those at Chibitronics, could make simple physics that much more exciting to learn.
3D printing has been making ripples for quite awhile now. We’re often hearing about new ways 3D printing is being used to make someone’s life a little bit easier. While the process of 3D printing, or similar processes like milling, is often out of reach for the typical layman, it is easy and free to make your own 3D model. You could then take a model that you’ve designed into a Maker space or University and see if it would be possible to print the object there. Or, you could send it in to a company like Shapeways, who acts as a middle man between 3D printers and anyone who pays to have their 3D design printed. Some programs, like 123D Make, even allow you to print out a 3D model as 2D parts, which you can assemble back into a 3D model.
These kind of programs allow anyone to try making a prototype of their design idea. Paired with the circuit building I mentioned above, it could even open the door to some simple engineering projects.
Last summer, I got to witness an awesome program (run by a local teacher) that taught math by getting kids to build, then program, Lego robots. Khan Academy actually has a video series that highlights how these Lego robots can be used and also walks through many of the steps.
However, there are even simpler and more accessible opportunities to learn how to code, like the video game coding interface Tynker:
Every time I come across fantastic programs like these, I think about my own education experience. I wonder if I would have cared more about math or science if I could have seen them as more than just irrelevant scratches on my page.
We’re so incredibly lucky to live in a time when new ways to learn are right at our fingertips. As I embark on my teaching career, I hope that we will only find more and more ways to help kids learn and find their passion. Especially when it involves making something they can be proud of.