Inspiring children with science in a meaningful, interesting and powerful way can be a challenge at times. But not when you listen to what they want.
A new youth maker space in Impression 5 Science Center, called Think Tank, did just that. What makes Think Tank even more engaging is that a group of 9 to 14-year-olds helped design it.
“We really wanted to create a space that allows kids to not so much study STEM, but develop STEM and scientific behavior,“ said Director of Communications at Impression 5 Science Center Laura Zeller. “(The kids) really helped shape the space, which makes it special.”
STEM stands for Science, Technology, Engineering and Math. At the newly opened Think Tank, Zeller said the children will be empowered and it will help them understand they can do a lot of different things themselves.
In the development of the Think Tank, the kids met over a course of a year to explain what they would like to see, and what activities they would like to learn, and what tools they would like to use.
“We had 15 youths that met regularly and really helped shape this space,” said Zeller. “They told us what they want to see, what is meaningful to them and interesting.”
At Think Tank, a lot of the items the youth will learn are household items they may be able to find around their houses. It will also help them think and problem solve in their personal lives.
“It is empowering to kids, and this will help them understand they can do a lot of things themselves,” said Zeller.
The space will be filled with real tools, supplies, a showcase area and nooks designed for brainstorming. The Think Tank is not only to encourage big ideas and tinkering, but to allow the kids to foster key pro-STEM behaviors like perseverance, risk-taking, creativity and to empower the youth to see themselves as makers and problem solvers in their personal lives.
“We want them to have these behaviors and establish them while they are young,” said Zeller. “These types of activities really build a kind of confidence, and that is what we want to see. We do not want them shying away from science because they don’t think it is relevant. We are bringing it to them, and making it relevant.”
In the Think Tank, there will also be an adult facilitator who will help the kids when they face challenges, and to provide training with the tools. The facilitator will also be an advocate for the youth’s ideas, Zeller said.
Impression 5 Science Center serves families with children birth to about 12 years old. Zeller said that for them, it is important to think about what the next step is for the children, and how to keep them interested in STEM and think of possible careers in a STEM field.
“This will keep evolving with these kids, their age and their interests, so it stays relevant,” said Zeller. We want to continue the pipeline; we don’t want to lose these kids (to STEM) when they turn 12. We want to keep them thinking like scientists, and keep them engaged in STEM and empowering them to do these things, to become tinkerers themselves.
“(The Think Tank) going to be a really amazing community asset and investment in helping teens realize their full potential in STEM-related endeavors and careers.”
Currently, the Think Tank is open Monday through Friday to school groups that have reserved the space. It is open on Saturday and Sunday to the public from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m.
To help make Think Tank a reality, several organizations helped to fund the project, including a grant from William T Grant Foundation, R. E. Olds Foundation, Lake Trust Credit Union, TechSmith, Capital Region Community Foundation, and the Katranji Family Foundation.
For more information on Impression 5 and Think Tank, click here.