by Dr. Wienen

The following contains excerpts from an article originally published by CHELSEA KATZ chelsea.katz@theeagle.com April 11, 2018
Read the original work here.

Chelsea Katz visited Mentors & Makers last night and got a first hand look at what we do in youth programming. The Equipped for Making Class explained their scrap table projects and summarized past experiences involving 3D printing and metalworking. Chelsea also observed a STEM presentation given to a local cub scout den. This is some of what she gleaned from her visit.

“Cardboard robots, scrap wood tables and 3-D-printed cars are all within the realm of possibility at Mentors and Makers.

Established with the intention of helping foster mentoring relationships across generations, manager Michael Wienen said his goal was to have as many options as possible. “There’s as many excuses as you can possibly have for adults to come work with their kids,” he said. It can be difficult, though, because of how busy children and adults are in today’s society. His favorite part about watching people — adults and children — work on projects in the community workshop is seeing the “light bulb” moments when something makes sense or someone realizes what is possible. “There’s more reward for the people who either have been told or have told themselves that they can’t and then to see them achieve,” Wienen said. In addition to developing relationships across generations, Wienen also wants to create projects that are accessible to everyone, no matter what tools are available to them or their socioeconomic status. That is one of the reasons he tries to incorporate projects that use cardboard, scrap material or other inexpensive items. “The scrap is really just one example, but accessible is the key, because if it’s not accessible, it’s for the elite, it’s for the privileged,” Wienen said. “We need to find ways to make it so that everyone can benefit.””

The “accessible” ideal has several aspects. It’s the basic motive behind everything  we do, from the cardboard robot project to the iMake membership auction. Barriers will always exist separating prospective beneficiaries from M&M resources. Our goal is to eliminate as many barriers for as many people as possible.  Some barriers, like overcrowded family schedules and lack of transportation for across-town youth, will always remain outside our control. But, we’ll keep looking for creative solutions to invest in those that do enter our sphere of influence.

“Wienen has been coordinating local robotics programs since 1996, but he realized the community needed a wider offering for people who might not enjoy or want to work with robots. “Our kids have gotten a lot of exposure to the different things, from woodworking, some metalworking and then the 3-D printing and all that, It’s been a really good experience for them. … We do things at home like woodworking things, but never this extravagant,” Gaylon Morgan said, noting it adds a level of professionalism their home projects cannot meet…Wienen has patience with the students, Morgan said, and the work he does with the students helps with everything from developing their own patience to working on problem solving.”

Gaylon brings up another aspect of accessibility…breaking cognitive and psychological barriers. Sometimes these barriers are eroded easily under the right conditions. Eroding such barriers early in life is like two rays that diverge from a shared point. The farther away you get from that point, the more significant the difference in the two rays becomes. Teaching kids to be problem solvers early in life can have profound impact on their adulthood.

Problem solving is not an innate skill for children or adults, Wienen said, and people can be limited by what they have been told or experienced. “It really is, in my opinion, a little bit of creativity, a little bit of knowledge and a lot of motivation and you can overcome the problems. … If we just teach them knowledge, that’s not it,” he said. “It’s got to have this creative [aspect], and we’ve got to show them, ‘Whoa here’s this piece of trash; [you really can] turn it into something you didn’t see before.’ “…

STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) education needs to be able to grow with the student as they and their abilities mature, Wienen said, or else children will lose interest in simpler projects, and those STEM-related toys will be dumped into a toy box.

 

There is no shortage of STEM related kits and toys on the commercial market. Some are more effective than others in using young curiosity to truly inspire kids towards STEM. More often than not the myopic design of these “age-appropriate” toys relegate them to the bottom of the toy box in record time.  Finding a kit/toy that is truly age-appropriate And that grows with the child is rare indeed. The possibilities for growth are not always self-evident. Kids generally need a guide for them to progress from one level to the next…at their pace. This is the crux of the mentor’s role.

The last, and possibly most important, aspect of accessibility is the availability of educational content that supports the equipment and hardware. In the workshop and in youth programming, mentors can make the difference between an underutilized toy/tool and one that helps the student maximize their potential.

That’s a pillar of the Mentors & Makers experience.
Read the original work. published by CHELSEA KATZ chelsea.katz@theeagle.com April 11, 2018