Engineering Brighter Futures

An after-school program that heightens students' curiosity about STEM and makes learning fun

By: Laura Staich


Every day after school, in the 9 Dots Community Learning Center (named for the 3x3 puzzle that challenges one to think outside the box) in Los Angeles, underserved middle school and elementary students are defining their own futures. 9 Dots' free program heightens students' curiosity in STEM by making learning fun. Students code websites, create stop motion animation, build Rube Goldberg devices, and motorize Lego cars.

9 Dots' innovative approach focusing on providing teachable moments that could "engineer brighter futures" in a career pathway that has emerged as the fastest growing and highest paying of all fields has caught the attention of All Points North Foundation, a small private foundation dedicated to middle school education and teacher training.

Only 13% of the STEM workforce is Latino or African American, and 9 Dots is intent on changing that imbalance. 9 Dots students build core academic skills and engage in critical thinking, and their test scores show the positive impact.

9 Dots also holds professional development workshops on STEM curriculum and best practices for local educators and school districts, underscoring the importance of sharing curriculum in an open source community.

How can educators get started on STEM empowerment? 9 Dots recommends:

  • Start simply. Dedicate one hour weekly to a hands-on STEM activity. Gauge student interest and see where it takes you!
  • Use STEM resources to build curriculum:
    • MIT AppInventor. 9 Dots students use the MIT AppInventor to design and program a fully functioning phone app that tracks healthy food choices by giving nutritional information for different foods.
    • Makey Makey. 9 Dots students used the Makey Makey invention kit to learn about the history of video game controllers and design their own super-sized cardboard controller, creating buttons that send signals through computers.
    • littleBits. Using electronic building blocks called littleBits, 9 Dots students learn about circuits, sensors, and outputs and then design their own art mural that is fully interactive with motion sensors, switches, lights, and buzzers. This unit exposes them to the power of murals not only as an art piece but an interactive wall.
  • Check out http://www.9dots.io 9 Dots created this unique website to provide a space for teachers to share their learning and discover new STEM curriculum and teaching methods. 9 Dots posts all units and lessons, ensuring they align with Common Core standards.
  • Explore other resources.
    • Exploratorium is the world's most experimental and interactive museum.
    • Design Squad is an award-winning PBS series that provides activities and resources to get kids excited about engineering.
    • Maker Camp is a free, online (or in-person) community for young makers interested in DIY and making the world of the future.
  • Consider students as a resource to help each other. It eases the facilitation process and boosts student confidence.
  • Give students effective feedback while pointing out progress, challenges, effort, and quality of their work.

Don't forget to make STEM fun while making it teachable. By doing so, you will help "engineer brighter futures!"


Laura Staich is executive director of All Points North Foundation, a small, private foundation dedicated to measurably improving public middle school education and teacher training through funding innovation programs in underserved communities in the U.S.


About 9 Dots

9 Dots' mission is to use education to close access gaps for students in underserved communities. 9 Dots focuses on STEM skills (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics), working to lay a solid foundation for futures in tech fields. At its Hollywood-based learning center, 9 Dots runs a free after-school program and develops learning initiatives that give youth better access to education in order to help them achieve their dreams. For more info, go to www.9dots.org or email at info@9-dots.org.

Photo courtesy of Yoni Goldberg

 
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