Youth Championing Inclusive Access to STEM Learning
Walking into ArduCamp, you could tell the children, ranging from Grades 4-7, were excited to learn how to code. Participants were focused on creating their kits under the guidance of the instructors and camp organizers — a group of five high school students passionate about Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM).
To inspire others about engineering, the five friends had the idea to offer a free camp for younger students to learn Arduino. After being awarded an Inspiring Community grant based on their impressive application, they further shaped their STEM outreach project to also serve those typically under-represented in STEM careers. Half of the registration spots in Arducamp were reserved for those identifying as Indigenous, Black, female or gender diverse.
To learn more about what inspired the five friends to organize ArduCamp for their community, I met with Peter, Leo, Ethan, Filip and Ryan, for a conversation about their starts in STEM and the experience of sharing their knowledge with others.
Teanna, UTown@UBC: For those that are unfamiliar with Arduino, I was wondering if you could briefly explain what it is.
Peter: Arduino, in technical terms, is a microcontroller, but you can also think of it as a mini computer. If you have a robot, then the Arduino would be the brain of the robot. It controls all the components such as motors and sensors that the robot might use. Coding is the language you use to tell the Arduino what to do.
Ryan: It is easy to use for beginners, even young children. With some instructions, you can build some cool interactive projects. We wanted to share our passion for STEM through our knowledge of Arduino with children, regardless of their previous experience and exposure to programming and coding. This team came together as we all attended the University Transition Program. After working closely together on a daily basis and then hearing about this Inspiring Community Grant, we thought it would be an awesome opportunity to share our passion for STEM as a group. Access to STEM camps like Arduino can be very expensive, which is not always accessible to everyone, so we are very grateful to be able to offer this camp at no cost to our participants with the support of this grant.
Teanna, UTown@UBC: For each of you, what inspired your passion for STEM?
Peter: I think I was really young at the start and wanted to make a robot dog. Instead, my dad bought me an Arduino kit with step-by-step instructions to make a little car.
Ethan: I don’t think there was a particular moment when I became interested. It's growing up in this type of environment where there's so much technology around, I became interested in it and I wanted to learn more about it and how it worked.
Leo: At the beginning I was only interested in coding, but last summer, there was a summer camp on engineering which I attended and I got interested in Arduinos from there.
Filip: When I was a little kid, I always wondered how things worked. Whether I was on a subway, a plane, or a boat, I always wondered about the machinery behind it and the coding. I had a friend who had similar ambitions, and we just researched these things and learned it by ourselves. While I did more engineering than coding, I attended an Arduino camp last summer and that’s how I got interested in Arduinos.
Teanna, UTown@UBC: I know you all mentioned that you were interested in STEM or that you attended Summer Camps related to Arduino. I’m wondering if there is also anyone in particular that inspired you?
Ethan: I started with learning languages first... I started learning Python around the age of 8 and a local teacher came to my house to teach me and that was all I had for a few years and then I started learning more on my own after a few years.
Peter: Before I did some Lego robotics but I wasn’t really interested in that. I wanted to do something more technical where you code with text instead of with blocks. I went to China one time and my cousin introduced me to an Arduino teacher and we had a few classes. When I came back, we continued to have those classes over zoom.
Ryan: Yeah, I think my passion for STEM was born from building Lego as a kid too. As I grew older, I became more interested in technology and curious about how things work. Growing up on the UBC campus, I was exposed to amazing camps at Geering Up and Department of Physics and Astronomy which helped fuel my passion for STEM.
Leo: I started with Scratch (a programming language where you can learn how to create interactive stories, games, and animations) and I found it interesting. So, I started learning some programming from Khan Academy. I liked that as well, so I had some Python (a programming language) lessons after that.
Filip: When I was an even smaller kid (6 years old), I went to an engineering camp for electricity and circuits, and the teacher there was really good. She understood the material and how to teach it to kids in a fun, educational, and, most importantly, effective manner. I think that’s what inspired myself to teach similarly during ArduCamp.
Teanna, UTown@UBC: On the camp website and application, it mentions ArduCamp’s focus on prioritizing registration for girls and those under-represented in STEM careers. Tell us more about the reason for this.
Peter: A lot of people think that engineering is only for boys, so we wanted to stop that stereotype by adding some spaces for girls to join.
Teanna, UTown@UBC: Now that you’re halfway into running this week-long camp, what have you enjoyed the most so far? Has anything surprised you?
Ethan: I enjoyed teaching the kids the most, and it’s fun to watch them improve over the past three days. It's really surprising they caught on, even though they didn’t have any knowledge in coding and STEM before.
Peter: I was surprised that the participants were all interested in Arduino. At first, I thought that since they didn’t really know what Arduino was, they would lose interest over time. But then, even if something didn’t work for them, they were still really interested. I really like it when they complete a project and really like what’s happening, and then they play around with it!
Filip: For me, it was definitely the result and the joy when the students accomplished something. It made us feel proud that they achieved so much in just three days, exploring the Arduino Kits with personalized projects and creating various experiments to learn from. What was surprising to see from some of the children was the amount of attention they gave to the instructors while teaching lessons. They were very respectful and even took additional notes – which was not at all expected from them!
Ryan: Sharing our knowledge and seeing that kids are learning and enjoying the camp has been so rewarding. In particular, we have a student from Ukraine who doesn’t speak any English and seeing him follow along and having fun has been one of the highlights for me so far.
Leo: I was honestly just surprised that everyone listened to us and that they weren’t running around screaming!
To learn more about ArduCamp, check out their website: ardu.camp
Did Peter, Leo, Ethan, Filip, and Ryan inspire you to share your interests with your community? If so, apply for the Inspiring Community Grant to fund your project with up to $500! Applications are now accepted and reviewed on a rolling deadline until December 1, 2022.
Interview by: Teanna Bailey, Community Programmer