Monday, August 20, 2018

Organizer's Thoughts on our STEM Kid's Track at SQLSaturday Baton Rouge

New this year to #SQLSatBR that was really nice for us - we hosted a kid's STEM track leveraging an existing children's education organization operated by the STEMupBR program inside the Foundation for EBR School System.  This is also the same organization that we have raised money for at SQLSatBR for the past four years.

Professional educators and their Americorps VISTA volunteers and our volunteers hosted 25 kids thru robotics, stop-motion animation, and LEGOs thru the day. Some kids had a parent in tow, some had a parent enjoying the rest of SQLSaturday. In the last timeslot we had a "showcase" for the kids to show off what they had created. Parents spent the final session of our SQLSaturday with their kids, and it was far from formal and far from another boring Saturday!

It was awesome, the kids would NOT stop talking about the cool things they created. For other #SQLSat organizers, contact the local school districts to see if they have a STEM program, or contact local WIT organizations, children's museums, or coding camps to see if you could partner for an all-day kid's track.

We had speakers bring kids from out of town, we had an attendee drive in from Houston with his daughter, and volunteers/organizers register their kids too. We will grow it next year because it was an inspiring addition to our event.

Originally I wrote the above as part of my PASS Post-event Form answer for SQLSaturday Baton Rouge, then turned it into a twitter thread. But I've expanded it somewhat here, so some thoughts on this part of SQLSatBR from the organizer's point of view.

We charged a small $10 fee per child to register because:

1) We wanted to start small this year, only 20, but then increased it to 25 when we had huge demand, and so we wanted those who registered to show up.

2) to cover snacks and consumable supplies, like printed materials and creative materials the kids used in the pictures here.

We're not pioneers here, we benefited from the wisdom and experience of others.

We're not the 1st, other SQLSats have done this before, and Devin Knight from SQLSat Jacksonville gave me some valuable tips. But, not operating it myself (as the SQLSaturday organizer) - instead partnering with pro STEM educators - seemed super convenient for me and effective for the kids. Partnering with a professional STEM organization like STEMupBR also gave me, the SQLSat organizer, peace of mind.

STEMupBR handled registration, parent forms, payment, refunds/cancellations. They were smart about having parents sign photography consent forms, had appropriate snacks and supplies, and a great grasp of the gear the kids were to play with.

Organizations STEMupBR, which was started with a grant from the White House US2020 grant program in 2014, also wants to partner with larger events like SQLSaturday and other STEM-oriented community events, as opposed to trying to stand up their own independent STEM events. SQLSaturday is a perfect opportunity to further their mission with a pre-primed audience of STEM-savvy parents and kids.

So you're an organizer, what's the toughest part about organizing a STEM kid's event this?

It's the volunteer adults. Let's face it, this is challenging. Professional educators have training, tools and tactics for working with kids on this stuff that your everyday Professional DBA or Dev does not have.

It's even more challenging at high school age levels, especially if you try to teach coding. It's hard to find professionals willing to dedicate their time to teaching coding to kids - though the ones who do it are AWESOME and should be thanked at the top and bottom of every hour. And it's hard to keep kids engaged if your content is not appropriately challenging.

This is why our STEM Kid's track at SQLSaturday Baton Rouge will likely never offer age levels above the 8th grade (not high school) - because the content and teachers needed to keep that age level interested and not make it "too simple" are hard to wrangle. On the other hand, it's often that scholastic organizations require volunteer hours of high schoolers - this would be a great opportunity for them to volunteer to help teach younger kids under the supervision of STEM education professionals. We'll advise that if you have an older kid in school, send them along to volunteer with their younger sibling, for example.

Between LSU, the Visit Baton Rouge local visitor's bureau, the Louisiana Technology Park, and now the STEMupBR program from local the school district, we have really worked some good partnerships with SQLSaturday and other organizations in the Baton Rouge community.

Photographs in this blog post used with permission from STEMupBR.

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