Full STEM Ahead

In our ever-evolving, complex world, it’s essential for students —our future leaders — to have real-world problem-solving  experience, learn critical thinking skills and be able to work collaboratively and innovatively. Such skills can be developed through science, technology, engineering and math, and the Shorewood Recreation Department makes it a priority to offer STEM-related courses.
Currently, there are four offerings for students from grades  1 through 12: First Lego League (FLL) Explore, First Tech Challenge (FTC), Robotics Coding and 3D Printing. All programs are run by volunteer coaches. FLL Explore introduces students in grades 1 through 4 to  STEM concepts through an exciting, hands-on, guided global robotics program that dabbles in coding and design.
FLL coach Joe Hammann says that this year’s challenge, “Cargo Connect,” challenges students to improve cargo transportation throughout communities and around the world.

“I believe it's never too early to get exposed to STEM,” says  Hammann. “At this age (6 to 9), the energy and excitement the  students bring to our LEGO building and coding work is super  fun and gives me confidence that this program and others like it are successfully building a future pipeline of STEM professionals.”
FTC, for students in grades 7 through 12, allows students to work together as a team to  design, build and program an  Android-based robot from a provided kit of parts, including motors, sensors and multiple mechanical components. The class then culminates at an FTC competition including live games where  the robots go head-to-head, per-forming tasks to earn points and trying to outscore the opponent. 
“The tournaments have a great sport-like atmosphere,” says FTC coach Alan Owan. “Leading up to the day, I like watching team dynamics evolve as the kids face and overcome technical challenges and manage their project schedule. I provide guidance with skills from  the business world, but also learn a lot in return from observ-ing the natural way they work together with enthusiasm and honest emotion.”
The Robotics Coding and 3D Printing courses are both offered to students in grades 4 through 8 and are taught  by Shorewood Intermediate School teacher Dustin Slusser.  In Robotics Coding, the students gain an understanding of the role of robotics and robots in their everyday life. They  are introduced to Spheros and Lego Mindstorms, build and  read block codes to program robots, and program robots using Java text.
In 3D printing, the students learn the history of 3D printing and the importance and value it can add to their everyday lives as they get older. They use a kid-friendly CAD program called Tinkercard to build and design projects that they  can 3D print using the District’s Makerbot printers.
“There are a couple reasons I think it's vital to have  these types of programs in Shorewood,” Slusser says. “First, the skillset required by today's jobs is way different than it was five to 10 years ago. Jobs today require a lot of critical thinking, problem solving and collaboration for success, and my courses stress these skills. Secondly, it’s about exposure. We want to give our students the best chance to succeed after they leave. The skillsets they learn are crucial for student success not just in my classes, but throughout their entire education and as they move into the workforce.” 

For more on the programs above, visit shorewoodrecreation.org. Courses are subject to change based on volunteer availability.
[Pictured: Volunteer instructor Alan Owan, a professional electrical engineer at  GE Healthcare, works with students (left to right) Finian Little, Mason Engelking and Sam Mitch in a  Shorewood Recreation Department First Tech Challenge class]