Those who frequent the Mount Royal University Library may have noticed a group of students scamper through our hallways last week that stood out from learners we often spot across campus. They are small in stature and had formal snack breaks scheduled into their days, but they kept busy using our technology to connect with NASA and flexed their coding and design skills with robotics. Don’t let the endless giggles and chatter fool you, this was a scholarly crew.
The grade three students from Sunnyside School spent a week learning new skills outside of their classroom at a STEM Learning Lab and Campus Calgary Open Minds (CCOM) program that goes by the name of Social Enterprise School. The goal is to expose elementary students to real-world, experiential learning.
Due to construction delays at the STEM Learning Lab building—the usual program site— organizers reached out to the MRU Library for an opportunity to introduce the students to STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) skills in our future Maker Studio, which happens to be the ideal location for burgeoning innovators.
“We are counting down the days until the September launch of our permanent Maker Studio, which will have even more equipment, materials and software that support Mount Royal University than the current temporary studio”, says Katharine Barrette, Associate University Librarian, Public Services. “Until the launch, that space is used for various educational programs and as open study and collaboration space, so when Calgary Campus Open Minds approached us in need of a temporary location we were happy to welcome students from Sunnyside School knowing it would facilitate similar pursuits.”
The students were busy with a variety of projects that included coding with Scratch—a visual programming software that allows children to create interactive stories. They also watched On The Way To School, a film that documents the dangerous obstacles four children from Kenya, Morocco, Southern India and Patagonia must overcome to access their classroom and receive an education. Zibusiso (Zee) Mafaiti from STEM Learning Lab was the program facilitator for the week and made a point to allow students to discuss how they felt after watching the film, followed up with design and robotics by recreating various objects they spotted in the feature that resonated with students.
Mafaiti said he was thrilled to learn the future Maker Studio would be the primary location where he would instruct students for the week.
“These are the environments we thrive in. The building is so futuristic and that really excited us,” said Mafaiti who is a scientist and educator.
He added that hearing directly from the children about how much they were enjoying themselves is truly the ultimate reward.
“One said to me, ‘This is the funnest day of my life’, they don’t want to go home at the end of the day,” said Mafaiti with a wide smile as he recalled the conversation.
The 25 Sunnyside students ended the week on a high note with a Skype call from Laura Lucier, a Canadian NASA engineer, in the Visualization Classroom. They learned how robotics and sensors are used to control the Canadarm2—a 17 metre-long robotic arm that has serviced the International Space Station (ISS) since 2001— and the variety of challenges that arise at ISS.
Calgary Campus Open Minds is available to all Calgary students and teachers interested in moving their classroom into the community for an entire week.