Science fiction and comic books have influenced and inspired engineers and scientists for decades. Whether through novels such as The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy or via iconic television and film creations such as Star Trek and Star Wars, children who have been exposed to Sci-Fi-Com are seeded with a passion for creating the objects from the worlds contained within these stories—stories in which technology and science serve as the backdrop. These stories inform children about the promise and possibility of technology and the more they read, consume, and create from these stories, the more motivated children can become to bring these technologies to life.
There has been much written and debated about the different “gaps” that affect student achievement and outcomes. However, the gap that most readily determines a child’s interest in STEM and STEM careers is the Imagination Gap. Children must be able to imagine what the future looks like and they must also be able to imagine themselves as creators of that future and not simply as consumers. This is achieved by exposing them to books and films that stoke imaginations and inspire dreaming. Imagination is peaked by exposing kids to Sci-Fi-Com, the first pillar in the SIMPLR® STEM model.
One of the most common of childhood experiences for STEMs, and engineers in particular, is the act of Making and un-Making. Playing with Legos, Transformers, and erector sets helps children build skills necessary for success in stem. On the other side, un-Making, is the act of “destroying” toys and gadgets for the sake of learning how they work. Un-Making is an act driven by curiosity and helps to develop a child’s skills and knowledge about tools and simple assembly practices. Making also encompasses simple electronics such as Arduinos and basic programming skills.
Pepakura is a Japanese for “papercraft.” More importantly, it is the name of a piece of software that takes 3-Dimensional object information and turns it into 2-dimensional templates. These templates are then cut, folded, and glued together to recreate the original 3D item in paper form. The benefits of this program cannot be understated. By using Pepakura, you are able to design, export, and build almost anything using paper! We love Pepakura because it provides a low-cost means to bring almost any idea to life and give a tangible product for people to touch and manipulate. Students benefit by learning about 3D objects, blueprint reading, and prototype creation. More advanced lessons incorporate Pepakura and electronics to create paper shells for robotic assemblies.
The ability to read and interpret text is a foundational skill across all content areas and it is especially critical in STEM- focused career fields. SIMPLR® cultivates this skill by exposing kids to graphic novels that are rich with science and technology. These novels often have plots and themes that touch upon important topics that will spur thoughtful discussion and push children to think critically about technology and how it affects their lives. The literacy component of SIMPLR® works to address Common Core State Standards surrounding (but not limited to), Key Ideas and Details, and Craft and Structure. SIMPLR® also utilizes Engineering Notebooks to help children write, describe, sketch, and fully document their work. All of these activities contribute to the child’s overall literacy development particularly as it pertains to STEM.
Although the Rubik’s cube could fall under a more general category such as “puzzles,” we feel it deserves special recognition. It is essentially a low-cost, portable, brain exercising machine. We teach everyone how to solve a Rubik’s cube. Why? Here are the reasons: 1) The Rubik’s cube is the perfect device for developing and improving one’s spatial visualization skills. These skills have been shown to be essential for success in STEM courses and careers. 2) When you learn to solve a Rubik’s cube, you start to understand that “it’s not that hard.” This mindset shift is tremendously important. You start to understand, and believe, that with knowledge, practice, and perseverance, we all can easily master things that were thought to be reserved only for the geniuses among us. This confidence is key to success and helps power a student’s resilience. The impossible is indeed quite possible!