The Team at BlueFletch was lucky enough to participate in an Operation P.E.A.C.E. after-school program “Fun Friday” recently and here’s what we learned.
Operation P.E.A.C.E was founded in January 2012 under the “Year of Boulevard” Initiative to revitalize the Old Fourth Ward neighborhood through crime prevention, job training, education reform, economic development and summer and after-school youth programs. The Operation P.E.A.C.E After-School Program provides safe out-of-school care that keeps children focused on academics and structured enrichment activities during peak hours when children are more likely to be involved in high-risk behavior. Operation P.E.A.C.E provides transportation from local feeder schools (Hope-Hill Elementary, Intown Academy and Inman Middle School) to the program site each day. Once the students arrive at the Center, they unwind with a nutritious snack and supervised physical activities before settling down to begin their homework. Staff and volunteers assist with mentoring and providing one-on-one tutoring and various skill-based activities. Students are offered yoga on Wednesdays and “Fun Fridays” are reserved for arts and crafts, games, movies and other enrichment activities.
BlueFletch + STEM
As a mobile tech company, we’re passionate about technology. We spend our days building innovative solutions and products for our clients and in our down-time we tinker on side projects and build robots with our kids. Technology and STEM based experiences are at the core of who we are, personally and professionally. We believe STEM experiences are important in today’s world, where technology pervades every aspect of our lives. High quality STEM experiences develop critical thinking skills and enable the next generation of innovators. We want to encourage youth to be curious, ask questions, and make connections with the world around them; essential skills for success in life and in our global economy. To that end, for our afternoon at Operation P.E.A.C.E we set up four stations staffed by BlueFletch volunteers to teach the kids STEM concepts and learn through play.
Little Bits are electronic building blocks that snap together with magnets to create instant circuits for foolproof inventing. The blocks are color coded and include blue power source, pink input bits that send signals through the circuits, orange wires to connect your circuits to other systems, letting you build in new directions, and green output bits that can “do stuff”. They light up, blink, buzz and, as we found, beep. Lots and lots of beeping. The bits snap together with magnets and make circuits in seconds. We had fun watching the kids explore the limitless potential – they built fans, blew bubbles and did I mention the beeping?
The Sphero is a circular robot ball propelled by a small motor and programmed to move at your commands via bluetooth on a smart device. Using the SPRK app, the kids could give their robot the orders with visual blocks representing code. They immediately saw the connection between the program they created and how the guts of your Sphero work and react. At the Sphero station we hoped to inspire a love of robotics, coding, and STEM principles, all through play. The kids had a great time learning the basics of programing while racing their spheros around the Op PEACE classroom. Hockey Pokey anyone?
STEM / STEAM
Our arts & crafts projects embraced the science and math concepts of STEM learning. The students watched an incredible short film inspired by numbers, geometry and nature in 3D animation by Cristóbal Vila called Numbers in Nature and then got to work making tissue paper flowers and using the art supplies to imagine technical solutions to challenges they were having in school. From making a corsage to drawing a robot, the kids used their imaginations and lots and lots of glitter. Blending art and science required the students to engage in creative and critical thinking. This type of thinking and problem solving supports collaborative learning, provides opportunities to create something personal and meaningful and promotes creative expression, following instructions and skills development.
The kids were most excited about flying our drone. Connected toys are a great way to teach programming and get kids interested in STEM. Drones make STEM learning relevant and fun by allowing students to become creators of technology and by allowing them to collaborate, build off each others’ creative ideas and share enthusiasm. They show students they can use the sometimes abstract concepts they learn in class to engineer solutions to real problems. Students come away from these experiences having engaged more deeply with STEM concepts and inspired to continue learning. Plus they get to fly a drone, which is really cool.
Fruit race car snacks – apples, toothpicks, grapes and handmade flags are all you need to create a fast, healthy snack. The kids loved racing their spheros on the ground and their apple cars into their tummies. And we felt good coming up with a snack that demonstrated engineering while being both healthy and fun!