Wednesday, February 24, 2016

STEM Fest - Community Tinkering in Action

Exploring the Maker Marble Run
Yesterday after school, we hosted on of my favorite events, STEM Fest. We started this tradition a few years ago, originally calling it Tech Fest. Our goal was to engage our parent community in learning about the technology used in our academic program. Parents are often wary of technology in the learning environment, and part of this stems from a lack of understanding regarding how it is integrated and used to enrich the learning experience. The thought we had was simple: let's invite the parents in, create spaces for students to be the teachers of the technology in play, and let everyone explore together.

That first year, Tech Fest was a huge community success, accomplishing much more than we had hoped in building positive culture around blended learning and technology integration. Parents did walk away with valuable insight to the use of digital curriculum and tools, but they also learned from and alongside their children. Our students had a chance to learn from and alongside peers across grade levels as well, generating excitement for the years of learning on the horizon. Here is a quick step-by-step guide to putting on such an event...

Data Probes
Step 1 - Form a small planning committee to organize the logistics for date, spaces to be used, and planning documents.

Step 2 - In a shared document, create a map for the event which includes a list of rooms and the beginning brainstorm of tinkering spaces so that other teachers have an understanding of the hands-on nature of the activities.

Step 3 - Share the document with other teachers to have them signup to facilitate a station. Include a table with the columns for tool/app/activity name, description, and student helpers. Have teachers engage students as the leaders of these spaces.

Step 4 - Communicate and broadcast. Spread the word about the event and have parents join in the fun. We run our event after school with high attendance, but if this time is not conducive to parent attendance for your school, try to select a time that is. Participation is key.

"Dance Dance Revolution" Circuit Controller
This year, our STEM Fest included several stations for hands-on exploration, including spaces for coding, 3D printing, marble run maker space, science lab fun, photo booth, iPad art, board games, Google Docs, Schoology, iMovie, math apps, learning apps, and data probes. A fun way to draw visitors into the different spaces around the school is to run a live broadcast via Google Hangout. Our Webcast club reporters broadcasted the event live via Google Hangouts on Air from a news desk in one of the STEM Fest rooms, and other reporters go "live on location" to the different spaces. We broadcast the event in different spaces throughout the halls via projectors and screens.

When it comes together, STEM Fest gives the appearance of being a complicated event because there are so many wonderful spaces to explore. However, because of the collaborative prep and the goal of teachers facilitating exploration rather than leading workshops, the workload is light on the teachers. STEM Fest has quickly become a highlight of our academic year and a great way to build positive culture and shared understanding of our blended learning program.

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