Over the weekend, Nathan, my friend Timnit and I were lucky enough to host a hands-on learning activity at this year’s Sciimpact Conference on the UC Berkeley campus. The day long event brings together about 140 students from underserved bay area high schools to participate in a variety of science based breakout experiments, everything from making ice cream with liquid nitrogen to touching a human brain! All of the project based activities are designed by real life engineers and researchers to be interactive and fun with the goal of building student confidence and interest.
This was our second year running our MaKey MaKey based activity where we introduce circuit basics through creative human computer interface design. The MaKey MaKey board makes it possible to turn many mildly conductive everyday objects into touch interfaces. Those inputs are converted into keyboard presses, empowering users to invent unique controls for a wide range of computer applications like games and musical instruments.
Everyone loves the “Banana Piano” and who can stop smiling when playing a marshmallow drum kit? Or play-doh controlled Pac Man for that matter? It is really great to see the kids drop their guard and any reservations they had about electronics. We might have to bring some external speakers next time to hear over all of the laughing!
Some things stuck with us upon reflection. We watched hesitant students benefit from subtle encouragement provided by their attentive teachers. We witnessed young women coming out of their shells when in all female groups, as opposed to mixed gender groups. We observed more overall student excitement and energy this year when the program consisted of almost all hands-on projects as compared to last year’s 50/50 split between presentations and hands-on. Sciimpact offers a lot of insight for educators about how to truly engage students in science and ultimately attract a bigger and more diverse group of students to STEM careers. Education policy makers need to take notice. This would be a good place to start.
The day was a blast and we had a hard time coming down from all the excitement. By bedtime, I crashed hard, exhausted. As my head hit the pillow, I felt great appreciation for the tremendous effort teachers deliver every day.