Sunday, August 9, 2015

anthoney's blog post

Maker Camp at the Allentown Learning & Engagement Center
My name is Anthony Stewart and I led the Maker Camp at the ALEC on Warrington Avenue over the past two weeks. The camp was sponsored by the Millvale Community Library. I started working with the Millvale Library Maker Program almost by accident. Last summer, I was hired to help with the implementation of a 500 gallon cistern as part of a stormwater management initiative at the library. After the work was done, Brian, who is the president of the library, asked if I would be interested in participating with the Maker Program. 

I helped with the weekly program at the library from October of last year until the summer of this year. According to the United States Office of Science and Technology Policy, “Maker-related events and activities can inspire more people to pursue careers in design, advanced manufacturing, and the related fields of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) and possibly take their creations to the next level and become entrepreneurs.” With the inclusion of art, STEAM is an educational approach to engage students in inquiry, dialog, and critical thinking.

I realized that I am a Maker and I look forward to helping the Millvale Library develop their program and collaborate with other community resources like ALEC.

Making A Difference
I've been working in the Allentown, Hilltop neighborhood at the Hardware Store for over year. The Hardware Store is a collaborative workspace for startups in tech and digital fields. I've been able to experience many of the neighborhoods' challenges first hand. For example, even though the neighborhood is just up the hill from Station Square and less than a mile from Downtown, public transportation can take nearly an hour to get Downtown. 

Allentown is undergoing a revitalization, but still many of its residents are facing poverty, unemployment, hunger, and related challenges. These hardships are often amplified for children. This is why I was so excited to see that Amber Rooke was leading ALEC to support local youth. 

My goal in developing a curriculum for the ALEC Maker Camp was to give students an opportunity to explore the world around them with readily available resources. The best resource any of us can tap is creativity. However, many of the students who attended the program do not have family lives that support critical thinking or inquisitive curiosity. Part of my job was to help these students unlock their potential. 

With a team of six support staff, our Maker Camp worked with water, energy, game design, waste management, nutrition, and flight. Using simple materials, like paper and cardboard, we helped students engage in fun activities while encouraging them to make observations, hypothesize, record and evaluate data, and take ideas from a thorough design to full implementation by building games, circuits, food, and all sorts of creative toys.

We reinforced basic themes in science, technology, engineering, art, and math for a group of local first through fourth graders. The program built a foundation to ensure that the students have some literacy across each of these fields. More importantly, we ensured that each student knew that he or she is a valuable part of society. All of the ALEC staff took time to answer questions (both on and off topic) and worked hard to make sure that conflicts were resolved in a way that was fair to all involved. 

Teaching is challenging but investing in our youth is investing in our future. I am looking forward to seeing new projects at ALEC and I am happy to know that they will have a huge impact on our community. I also feel very fortunate to have had an opportunity to participate in their work.

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