Letting off steam with STEM

With automation making skills increasingly important, there is a focus on trying to encourage creativity by incorporating the arts into science, technology, engineering and mathematics focused fields.

The newly opened EAV Education House (STEM) at The Pulse mall in Repulse Bay is one of the latest sites offering the Lego Steam program.

Sing Cheung, a Steam program coordinator with four years of part-time experience teaching STEM courses in primary and secondary schools, can clearly distinguish between STEM programs in schools and other education centers.

“Most schools use MBot as materials for teaching STEM, and students can successfully build a robot by following the teacher’s instructions,” Cheung said. “But they seldom really understand the principles behind it.”

In Cheung’s Lego Steam course, for pupils aged five to six, participants are required to build a racing robot.

He tells kids that lighter carbon fiber materials and a more powerful engine will be needed for it to resemble a sports car.

In the following process of finding bricks and programming, the principles of stability and high speed become the children’s operational guidelines.

Programming is not as tricky or boring as complex and verbose instructions that we usually see, but more like a puzzle game on iPad that allows children to organize different parts of their robots and adjust the parameters on the sensor.

But every setting the children input can actually affect the performance of the robot they design, as seen in the in-class competition at the end of the one-hour course.

In the advanced class for children aged over seven, more parameters will be available to adjust on each sensor, depending on the complexity of the model, meaning children will spend more time thinking about how to coordinate each of the parts to ensure a robot’s successful operation.

Cheung’s argument is that by using tools such as Lego bricks in the classroom, children move from a passive attitude in school toward actively taking part in learning experiences.

One of the most interesting parts of STEM teaching and learning is absent from schools, which is getting kids to build a robot from scratch, said Cheung.

“Of course, kids will be distracted by Lego bricks and build their own models, but with mentors stressing that they will eventually design a sports car of their own, they will focus a lot more,” said Cheung, adding that in his experience, the models that are required to be built in the Lego curriculum are more attractive to the children.

It may not sound relevant, but the 23-year-old’s job at EAV also links him to that viscous and squishy favorite of kids, slime.

Cheung himself discovered the connection between slime and science.

The education house has a considerable and elaborately decorated space for kids to have DIY slime experiences and even a slime birthday party.

Children will get a basic ingredient package right after paying at the cashier, while more than 100 choices of slime charms and iPad live tutorials will be provided.

Students are encouraged to make another type of slime by changing the standard recipe of glue, contact lens solution and baking soda. The variation in the amount of some extra materials such as glycerin, shaving cream, glitters, essences, charms, food coloring and pigments will result in the appearance and texture of the slime.

Children will need to decide what they are going to change and guess the consequent impact on the slime’s texture and color, and then start to test their hypothesis by creating their slime with the new formula.

Finally, students can observe and test their finished slime to see whether their experiment was a success.

“I would say making slime is not just an art and craft activity, but also an experiment in which children will be able to experience the scientific method,” said Cheung.

(This article was published at The Standard on June 30, 2020: Education: Letting off steam with STEM )

200630 Letting off steam with STEM

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