Portable inspiration: the necessity of STEM outreach investment
Running a successful technology education lab and delivering curriculum in today's educational environment can be busy, misunderstood, and downright exhausting. Keeping up with growing and emerging technologies, educating the school and community on what your program is really all about, and running after-school technology and engineering clubs leaves precious little time for anything else. On top of all of that, investing in a STEM outreach program isn't even close to feasible, right? Even if it's far more feasible than one might think, to suggest that such a program is a "necessity" is downright foolish, isn't it? Not in our opinion. In fact, Pennsylvania Standard 3.8.12 mandates that students "apply the use of ingenuity and technological resources to solve specific societal needs and improve the quality of life" (Pennsylvania Department of Education, 2002). Further, Standards for Technological Literacy (STL) Standards 4, 5, 6, and 13 all relate to the impacts of technology on the environment and society in general (ITEA, 2000/2002/2007). Whether through a school's technology education curriculum, through a cocurricular STEM-related club, or a combination of both, it would seem that investment in an outreach program is a compelling way to address perhaps the most important standard charged to technology educators across the commonwealth today.
Our Example, But By No Means Our Idea
Originally developed as an extension of the Lower Merion High School Technology & Engineering Club's FIRST Robotics Competition (FRC) Team in October of 2007, Portable Inspiration was designed to expose students, educators, and communities to the experience of engineering and the design process. The program is fueled by a passion to provide others with opportunities to learn about the excitement and benefits of STEM, robotics education, and competition through hands-on experiences. There are also clear benefits for those LMHS students who spend time planning and executing these outreach events in our community and others. Students in our club ate developing leadership and communication skills while engaging in meaningful and relevant community service.
While Portable Inspiration was born and planned for at Lower Merion, the idea to perform outreach is something we cannot take any credit for. As a participant in FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science & Technology), the national nonprofit that operates FRC, we've been encouraged to spread the word of STEM and FIRST's ideals of Coopertition and Gracious Professionalism, two terms that promote the coexistence of cooperation and competition while emphasizing acting with integrity. Veteran FIRST participants learn to focus upon the ultimate goal of transforming the culture in ways that will inspire greater levels of respect and honor for science and technology. At Lower Merion we've broadened that effort to include all students in our Technology & Engineering Club whether they are affiliated with FIRST, VEX, TSA, or all three. With a strong ethos behind the effort, we then planned for and developed the Portable Inspiration package by consulting STEM-focused clubs and robotics programs that...