Last summer a dear friend of mine, one of those friend who seems to know everyone, asked me if I’d be interested in a summer gig. As an adjunct between semesters, I said, “sure, what is it?” She told me it was called Adventures in Engineering and put me in contact with Leslie Wall, one of the co-founders. What happened the rest of that summer was one of the most rewarding things I have ever done as a teacher and one of the best choices I have ever made for my daughter.
Because Leslie is the best boss ever, she agreed to an email interview with me. Leslie explains that “the mission of Adventures in Engineering is to help K-12 students prepare for the changing world by learning problem solving skills through STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Art and Math) curriculum.”
It was the problem solving skills and team-building activities in AIE that hooked me; as a teacher I see so many students who know STUFF but give up trying to figure out something new when it’s handed to them, and no amount of knowing just STUFF can help that student if they can’t tackle a big project as a team.
Leslie and her co-founder Mary Saville, who were at the time both stay-at-home moms, met through a mutual acquaintance and then bonded over their similar career backgrounds in chemical engineering. Leslie told me that “even in college, I loved my engineering studies, but I was torn [because] I wanted to be an elementary school teacher.” Mary also had a background in creating Engineering classes for homeschooled high school students. Talking to her, Leslie said she “had not realized that both of these jobs could co-exist! Mary and I ultimately decided to focus on creating a STEM summer camp, and AIE was born!”
As a teacher, my fear before I talked to Leslie and then taught in the camp was that a day at AIE would be just plunking kids in front of a computer and giving them stuff to do. Thankfully, that is not the case. Students had a portion of the day in front of computers, wherein they were given very active things to do, sometimes including coding. Campers also built objects and/or completed engineering challenges every day and also went to Skills, which I taught. In Skills we did fun activities that stimulated critical thinking skills and teamwork. Adults with jobs know that interpersonal skills are critical to success in ANY workplace, so I was delighted to be teaching those critical thinking and communications skills in a scientific context that was also FUN. Each week is also themed, so one week we may be learning about toys and gaming and how to build objects people can interact with, including learning about types of robots, and another week we may be studying how things go by building various vehicles out of household items.
Adventures in Engineering also wants to give kids an idea of a future they could have or that they could build that doesn’t exist yet. As a parent we sometimes label kids “the reader” or “my musician” and naturally steer our kids to interests similar to the ones they have already explored, when really, there are so many fields and concepts that children find interesting. Leslie advises that “regardless of what your child has already shown an aptitude for, please do not assume that they will not have an aptitude or interest in this. Guide your child to STEAM learning and you will not be disappointed. We have seen it over and over; kids who entered our program because their parents thought it might be a good idea, and the child unexpectedly LOVING it. Not just liking, but LOVING!”
My daughter’s experience was a testimony to this; she adored all the activities and could not wait to show her little sister how the stuff she made worked. Even better, the first report card/parent note I got home this year told me that she was fearless when it came to science learning. My family comes from an artistic and humanities background, but I want my children exposed to all the fascinating things this world has to offer.
But most importantly, as a mom and an educator, what I most hope for my children is that they be confident and enthusiastic when facing challenges. I asked Leslie what she most wants students to take away from the Adventures in Engineering experience and she said “In one word: pride. Pride that they were given a problem and were able to solve it themselves, even creating the solution with their own hands. Pride is a very positive, powerful emotion in children. Give a child something s/he can be proud of, and they will remember it forever.”
As parents we all know that someday our kids will leave us and go on to create careers and lives of their own. As Leslie asserts and research verifies, “Technology and engineering are exponentially growing fields. When Mary and I were growing up, we were not introduced to the concept of what an engineer is or what engineers do. We don’t imagine that every student we teach is going to become an engineer or programmer, but by exposing students at an early age, we are at least making them aware that those careers are a choice for them. Teaching technology and engineering inherently allows us to give our students practice in logical thinking, brainstorming, creativity, teamwork, collaboration, and adaptability, which are problem solving skills they will be able to apply to any career they choose.”
Information about Adventures in Engineering, including summer camp registration, is available at