But what are they learning?
The activities in the STEM Center + MakerSpace are really fun and exciting. We try and inject a bit of whimsy in everything we do, too. (We are Girl Scouts, after all!) So it isn't surprising when a parent or troop leader observes a group of girls ripping up paper cups, playing with a cat on a laptop or taping tubes to pegboard and asks, "This looks like fun, but what are they learning?"
We're fortunate because most of this work has already been done for us. The GSRI (Girl Scout Research Institute) has done a lot of work studying girls and STEM to determine what outcomes we should be shooting for in our workshops and events. On a larger scale, through much studying, debate and research four skills were identified as required for success in twenty-first century workplaces. While our priority at the STEM Center for girls is to reach the outcomes set forth by GSUSA, we have also adopted making and tinkering learning dimensions developed by the Tinkering Studio at the Exploratorium in San Francisco in addition to twenty-first century skills. Together with our volunteers and input from girls, it all adds up to an enriching experience for girls!
Beyond learning more about the subject of the workshop (like engineering or coding) GSUSA goals for STEM activities include increased STEM interest, competence, confidence and value of STEM to people and society. Ideally, girls who go through workshops at the STEM Center + MakerSpace improve in all of these areas. We measure this with a pre- and post survey at each workshop and event (in case you were wondering why we have them do it twice). Over time, we hope that means girls will engage more in STEM activities (whether it's at the STEM Center or elsewhere), improve their grades in STEM subjects, solve problems with their STEM knowledge, meet a STEM mentor and/or choose to go in to a STEM profession.
Twenty-first century skills have been identified as the most important skills people need to develop in order to be successful in a twenty-first century workplace. They're very simple: Communication, creativity, collaboration and critical thinking. Almost every activity at the STEM Center encourages girls to develop these skills. We often have girls work together on their projects and give them problems to solve that don't have one clear answer. At the end of every workshop, we have time set aside for reflection where girls can talk about what was challenging, where they were stuck, what was easy and what they enjoyed.
If you have ever watched a kid play with new materials or ask them to figure out how something worked, you can tell they're learning, but what exactly? The Tinkering Studio at the Exploratorium in San Francisco decided they wanted to know. They developed making and tinkering learning dimensions after working with and studying how kids learn for many years. They include initiative, critical thinking, conceptual understanding, creativity, and social engagement. These apply to adults, too! When we tinker, we're learning about new materials and systems, yes, but we're also learning more about how to think critically, engage with peers, and be creative.
The STEM Center + MakerSpace is unique, but we're not alone in our goal of shaping the next generation of innovators. The STEM outcomes set forth by GSUSA are in alignment with both twenty-first century skills and the learning dimensions developed by the Tinkering Studio. We're confident that when Girl Scouts visit the STEM Center, they will arrive at these goals and outcomes naturally over time.
If you want to know more, visit us! At every workshop adults are encouraged to engage in the activities with girls as facilitators after learning more about how to help (don't worry, it's not required).