The Center for Excellence in STEM – Two Years Later: Our Top Take-Aways

Like most other STEM-rich and student-serving organizations, the past two years have been filled with a fair share of uncertainty. We have closely considered the topics of access (meaning physical face-to-face audiences and reliable Internet) and equity (recognizing the needs of different audiences) from new and changing perspectives. 

As educators, we remain interested in offering high-quality experiences for our distinct audiences — K-12 students, families, as well as pre-service and in-service teachers. As makers, the foundation of our work which focuses on problem-solving, building empathy, innovating, and iterating prototypes or processes positioned us to transform these challenges into opportunities.

We hope our Top Take-Aways might encourage you to consider a new perspective on problem-solving, inspire you to collaborate with us in an existing program, or take a leap outside your comfort zone and put a new project plan into action.

Use constraints creatively

What started as a way to meet a need has grown into a purposeful option of our current programming. For classes coming to campus, our experience of packing pick-up kits or shipping supplies for virtual programs has helped us see the value of both/and rather than either/or. Two years ago, virtual options allowed us to reach far beyond our geographic boundaries. 

Now, giving teachers a virtual launch means we can reach several classrooms at once, apply best practices of remote instruction, and ultimately make the best use of every moment the students are in the makerspace. Similarly, a hands-on, place, project, and problem-based approach to professional learning allowed us to make new connections that were cultivated throughout the year both in on-going cohort meetings and through our podcast – Teach Wonder.

Lean in to learning

In the early months of 2020, we explored new ways of using social media (Facebook, Instagram, and most recently Twitter, producing videos online or asynchronous content, and taking time to pursue new skills. As the lines between work and home blurred, many hobbies or household tasks took on a new purpose as shared learning among a community of makers. Returning to campus, we were excited to use familiar tools in new ways.  

This summer, we will share some of these home-based and makerspace skills with makers of all ages in a new program format. Micro Camps will be single day events throughout the summer running alongside some of our traditional summer camps. These 2-hour make and take programs will have an additional thirty minutes before and after available for participants to engage open-make style with other areas of our space. Our hope is that families with students attending a camp would be able to engage themselves or with their other children on campus as well.  

Trust the Process

This is perhaps a key learning that has most recently been realized. Some of the ideas that took root in the months before and at the start of the pandemic are now being realized as new and growing programs — such as Chief Science Officers and Invention Convention. Recognizing the need for both quick thinking and flexibility as well as steady progress over time has helped build capacity. 

These take-aways have reminded us that just as innovation and invention is a process of revision and iteration, so too is the process of learning. Change presents a challenge which we choose to meet with curiosity that, over time and repeated experiences becomes learning.

Reflect and Connect

Finally, it is unlikely that these take-aways would have surfaced without devoting time to pause and reflect. Looking back we have been able to identify the things that worked best for us and our audiences. This process of reflecting helps us move forward with renewed purpose.

One such purpose and something we realize is of vital importance is YOU! While virtual programs met a need and will continue to have a place, we are so very ready to reconnect. Summer Camp registration will open May 1, and sign up for our newsletter to get first access to details and registration. If you’re interested in a preview, you can take a look at our summer schedule to see what options might be a good fit for you.

**The Center for Excellence is a participant in the STEM Passport App.  Download app to learn more about the organization and other upcoming events.

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