Building robots and growing minds

Kidsenses makes learning fun during After School Science Academy.
Mar. 22, 2013 @ 06:15 AM

For the past six weeks, young scientists have been building and programming robots, growing their own bacteria and extracting DNA from strawberries.

All of these activities were part of the After School Science Academy at Kidsenses Children's Museum in Rutherfordton. The Science Academy, made possible by a donation from the Stonecutter Foundation and a Facebook Community Action Grant, was a program for students in grades 3-5, designed for promising young scientists who are interested in learning more about STEM-based (science, technology, engineering and math) careers.

"We are so pleased with the program. We are definitely going to have a lot of future scientists in this group," said Joseph Knight, director of education. "I think our biggest accomplishment is encouraging children to identify an area of the STEM community that they want to grow in."

The 15 students that were selected to be part of the academy met at the museum on Mondays and Wednesdays from 3:30-6 p.m. where they conducted their hands-on experiments and learned more about STEM techniques. In order to be selected, each had to apply and write a personal statement. The cost for the program was $200 per student, but because of the donations the museum was able to give some scholarships.

"My favorite part was building robots. It was fun programming them, it was like telling them what to do," said John Anderson, third grade student at Thomas Jefferson Grammar School. "I learned that programming stuff isn't as hard as you think."

The grand finale of the academy was on Wednesday. Parents were invited to come in, enjoy a reception and view some of the projects that their children have been working on.

"This is a wonderful opportunity for us to reach out to connect with more kids in the community," said Alex Bell, president of the Kidsenses board. "I'm so happy that the museum is able to provide education training and make it fun."

Each young scientist was also presented with a certificate of participation and a bag of science goodies.

Benjamin and Allison Moore attended the finale to see what their son, Peter, has been learning.

"Peter loves it. He says he is going to miss it," Allison said. "He had a great time and he wished it was everyday. It was a unique opportunity that he could not get at school."

Knight presented a slideshow to the parents filled with pictures of their children conducting experiments. He said that he had a blast teaching them.

"Robot day was amazing and then on bacteria day they cultivated the bacteria on a petri dish and incubated them. Two students were inspired to be biologists because of that and I was very pleased," Knight said. "These kids have done some amazing things and have been able to handle projects that are meant for middle school ages."

The museum is planning to do another academy in the near future.

"There is a real need for programs like this in the community. We are looking to grow it and do it more frequently," said Jessica Moss, executive director of the museum. "We want to continue to identify other talented kids. And these kids that have already gone through the program will always be our science ambassadors. We will call them back to be involved in and help us in the science academy in the future."