As educators, we are always seeking subjects that are robust enough to allow children to have choices and are gender neutral to maximize engagement. The Exploratory specializes in developing projects that incorporate several learning opportunities into one project. This week, we introduced circuits and robotics and continued woodworking skills all connected by the love of bugs.
Robotis sent two great instructors with their Ollo bug kits for the kids to try out. Usually, we don’t use kits directly, but Robotis does a great job of enabling young children to get bitten by the robotics bug with fun as a key factor. They came with a short intro giving the scouts a basic background on robotics. Then took two groups of eight kids each to build fighting bugs. The kids got to test them in obstacle courses and on fighting platforms.
We also offered circuit blocks as an intro to Scribblebots and Bristlebots. One mentor helped scouts as they used alligator cables to make circuits from batteries, buzzers, motors, and switches. Once comfortable with how basic circuitry works, they then moved to another section, where another mentor got them drawing their robot designs, which they then built using recycled materials.
We have done this activity with hundreds of children and it always amazes me how different the designs are and the stories that come out. For some children, sitting down with batteries and motors is extremely intimidating, especially if there are different genders at the table. Parents are always telling me that their little girl would probably love to do the circuits, but needs other girls to share their experience with. By providing paper and markers or beautiful materials, these children can design and build with media that they are comfortable with and then once invested in the project, move to circuits with excitement rather than fear.
It is also very important to us that nature be integrated into STEM projects, to invite children to look closely at their natural worlds. So, I came up with the idea to make “bug hotels” to continue the woodworking from the first meeting and to also tie in the bugs from the other projects. We first asked the bug hotel group to draw their ideas. We asked them to go crazy, think wild, think fantastical. Many of our mentors are trained in the Reggio Emilia approach to early childhood education, so drawing out ideas is a natural step for us. We listen carefully for the ideas that the children have while drawing that they might not be able to share in a typical brainstorming conversation with older children. While we are listening, we are planning in our heads the materials that they need to make real their designs.
One group worked on the design of the frame, while others worked on the “rooms.” They talked about what kind of materials would attract certain bugs. A “bug buffet” was designed. They then went off to use their woodworking skills from last week to build the frame and one room. All the materials we used for the bug hotel project were picked up by mentors in the morning by driving around our neighborhood. They found tree trimmers and gardeners and brought huge avocado logs and tons of tree trimmings. The logs were so fresh, that when the scouts practiced their hammering and screwing, sap came out.
By offering these connected projects, young children make connections between materials and tools. The youngest, 4-5 year-olds were a bit overwhelmed by the sheer amount of activity. Next, we are going to try separating them into another space so that they able to be more successful in their focus.
Our group has grown to 24 scouts. We had hope to cap at 15 but there was so much demand, that we are accommodating for this special intro session.
Jean Kaneko, founder and chief tinkerer at The Exploratory, is documenting a session of the Maker Scouts’ successes and failures for MAKE and celebrating both as learning opportunities.