Monday, April 16, 2012

Guest Blogger: Stanford Splash

A Splash of Learning 
By Dan Sinnett

Q: How do you get over 1,500 seventh through twelfth grade students excited about a weekend full of non-stop classes?

A: Give them a choice of over 350 different classes taught by enthusiastic teachers at one of the world’s premier universities. Stanford Splash will do just that on April 21-22, just one week away!

Stanford Splash is a Stanford University student-run group that organizes two “Splash” events a year, one in fall and one in spring. The driving force that makes Stanford Splash so successful is our teachers, the vast majority of whom are Stanford undergraduate and graduate students. Our teachers have the freedom to teach their hobbies, passions, and areas of specialty – whatever they may be (within reason – no “How to Brew Beer” classes, for example).  This freedom and unique talent pool produces a wide variety of classes that range from the purely academic (like “An Introduction to Fluid Mechanics”), to hobbies (such as “Cake Decorating”), to the absurdly fun (“Quidditch”). Whatever their chosen topic, we help our volunteer teachers with brainstorming sessions and provide training for new, experienced, and expert teachers.

Students at Stanford Splash craft their own learning experience from an incredible diversity of classes. Students can delve deeply into a topic they have always been interested in, discuss new hobbies and ideas with their friends, and experience classes taught on Stanford’s beautiful campus. Online student registration is currently open, though students can also register on the day of Splash. There is a $40 fee to attend, which can be waived in cases of financial need, that helps cover the cost of running the program.

Running a program for ~2,000 participants (students, teachers, volunteers, and parents) with more than 600 individual class sections that are located on Stanford’s main quad and beyond requires 1,000’s of man-hours of volunteer time. The 20 or so active members of our administrative team meet each week to recruit teachers, students, volunteers, reserve classroom space, and perform a myriad of other tasks. Fortunately, our admin team is a dynamic group composed of undergraduates, graduate students, and Stanford alumni. We come from all backgrounds, but we all share a passion for education and community outreach.

In addition to our teachers, we also need many volunteers to help us run each event. Students and teachers need to be signed in, student waivers need to be collected and names entered into a database, class changes need to be made, lunches served, directions given, and numerous other tasks all need to be handled. It’s a huge undertaking, but the excitement of our students, teachers, and volunteers the day of Splash make the whole endeavor well worth it! We encourage community members to get involved either as teachers or volunteers– we hope you can join us.

Interested in bringing a Splash program to your university/college? Check out Learning Unlimited, a 501(c)-3 non-profit organization which is helping to take Splash national.

Dan Sinnett is a Stanford University graduate student and has been a Stanford Splash teacher, volunteer, and administrator for the past three years.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

More inspiration from Expo Day in San Diego!

You know those inspirational days that stick with you long after they're over?  That's how I feel about Expo Day in San Diego a few weeks ago!  I met so many wonderful educators doing such great work with students of all ages that I had to do one more post about them.

Here are some members of the Midnight Mechanics - the oldest FIRST Robotics team in San Diego!  These kids spoke passionately about robotics and teamwork, and gave me some insight into their creative process.  I was really impressed, not only with their level of technical sophistication, but also with their dedication to talking to the public about their experiences working together.  Go team 812!

The best part of going to a huge exhibition is meeting Coalition members and learning about what keeps them inspired.  The Science Bridge program at UCSD and the Birch Aquarium both take advantage of San Diego's proximity to the ocean in their programs.

The National Society of Black Engineers is also a Coalition member, and the folks at the San Diego Alumni Extension booth were happy to demonstrate eddy currents and talk about their upcoming Summer Engineering Experience for Kids - it's a free program!

I'm a huge fan of low-tech, hands on science exhibits, and these ones were my absolute favorite.  The San Diego Science Educators Association is a great resource for anyone in the San Diego area teaching science in or out of the classroom.  They brought super engaging exhibits of invisible forces - one using an AirZooka to blow out a candle, and the other was the homemade and terrifying Chair of Death demonstrating the conservation of momentum:

 I loved how they had bottles of water for the smaller kids and bricks for the bigger kids!

Finally, meeting this UCSD engineering student was the perfect ending to my day.  I mentioned before my love of low-tech exhibits; well, this table full of potatoes was so low-tech I had to ask for a demonstration.  I love the existential quandary he poses at the end!

Do you have a fun video of your after school science explorations?  Send us a link and tell us about it!

Thursday, April 05, 2012

The 2012 San Diego Festival of Science & Engineering

I had so much fun at the San Diego Festival Expo Day that I wanted to share a few pictures.  Expo Day is the grand finale of the Festival Week, and over 50,000 people from the San Diego area attended!  Here we are getting ready for the big day.

I helped run the science activities in the Time Warner Cable booth, along with some great volunteers from 4-H.  Here they are getting the bubble exploration station ready.

I knew the bubbles would attract the younger children, but kids of all ages enjoyed figuring out which wand shapes produced the biggest bubbles, or the biggest cluster of bubbles!

All of this laid the foundation to talk about Time Warner Cable's Wouldn't It Be Cool If... competition.  Kids shared their innovative ideas with us on the back wall.  The contest just ended this week and the finalists are going to the FIRST Robotics Championship at the end of this month!  I'm so excited to see whose awesome idea is going to win...

At the booth we also made delightful pinwheels...

...and handed out silly puddy...

...and basically had an engaging, awesome, STEMriffic day!  Thank so much to everyone at Time Warner Cable San Diego and the 4-Hers of San Diego - it's wonderful to work with great partners like you!