Siemens STEM Academy at Discovery Headquarters


SparkFun gets a lot of requests to run workshops, and we try our best to get to as many events as we can. We see a wide variety of events from mini Maker Faires to the USA Science and Engineering Festival. It's really a special treat to get to travel and spend time with our customers, and we recognize that the community around education and SparkFun is an exceptional group of people doing fantastic things with students of all ages. Every once in a while, we get to an event that really turns our heads. Early in August we traveled to the Siemens STEM Academy, an event hosted by Siemens and Discovery Education in Silver Spring, MD. We are all pretty familiar with the Discovery Channel, so when our friend Steve Dembo put us in touch with Discovery Education after a recent conference, it seemed like a good fit.


Dropping some knowledge bombs

Every year, Siemens, the German electrical/electronics giant, hosts a group of 50 educators for a week of workshops and training at the Discovery headquarters in Silver Spring. This is a great opportunity as the educators get an expenses paid trip for a week of STEM-related training. The process is described as “a one-of-a-kind immersion program that promotes hands-on, real-world integration of science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) in the classroom.” 
 
Linz Craig and I met in upstate New York after we'd both attended events on the East Coast and drove to Maryland. The Discovery headquarters is a pretty impressive building, and for someone like me, who's pretty into tech, it's kind of a pilgrimage. They have bikes from the Biker build-off series in the lobby, Rube Goldberg contraptions, and all kinds of stuff that reminds you of the wonder of people's highly creative nature. There was also a huge shark swimming through the actual structure of the building in homage to Shark Week.
 
We were ushered into a large conference room and immediately set about getting Arduino installed on the personal and work computers for educators. Linz and I are usually very focused about what we think people should get out of their time with us, and we had three hours each with two groups of 25 educators. We wanted to do an introduction to Arduino, including the software install, and we didn't have a lot of time. We had put together a presentation using the ProtoSnap Pro Mini, and even with cutting out the basics of circuit building, we knew we were pushing the time constraint limits.
 
The interesting thing about doing events with SparkFun Education is that we end up being System Administrators (in a limited and focused fashion) for pretty much the whole country. We see every configuration of hardware/operating system/particular preference, try to help people get hardware and software working, and manage to get most people's machines loaded. One hangup we often see is educators without administrator privileges -- this means that the educators are not able to install Arduino on their systems. This is a perfect example of why it is so important for technology educators to have the support of their more technical counterparts in the school community. While most educators are perfectly capable of teaching microcontrollers in a classroom environment, often there are stumbling blocks such as administrational privileges or funding that stand in the way of educators who are chomping at the bit to be able to teach various technologies. 
 

STEM Academy Class of 2012 poses in front of SparkFun's new headquarters
 
After a little wrestling we launched in to what we call the “Big Six” -- the basics of Arduino. This proved to be an awesome group of people -- educators from all over the country with wildly different backgrounds, but with a wonderful ability to grasp new concepts and material and put them into practice. The day seemed to flow by very quickly and I left wishing I could hang out with the educators for a bit longer. The concentration of talent that was at this event really stood out for me.
 
We'd like to extend a big thanks to Discovery and Siemens for hosting us, and to all the educators we met who were gracious and inspiring. We hope to see you all again in the near future!

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