Making a Project Your Own - Reflections from Interning at STUDIO

The past couple months working with STUDIO has been an enlightening experience. I’m interning so that I can get experience working as a STEM educator and STUDIO has been an awesome opportunity to do so. Lately, I’ve been reflecting on how giving youth directorship of an activity can help foster engagement and enthusiasm.

My Pinewood Derby car - "The Royal"

My Pinewood Derby car - "The Royal"

One of the first things I was involved with was the Pinewood Derby activity.  What was really exciting to see was how the youth took ownership of their designed cars. The kind of shape they carved. The colors they painted it. Decorations like spoilers or fins. A lot of the cars made said something about the youth who designed it. more exciting to see than the unique designs was the youth’s enthusiasm for the project. Youth would come in outside of the scheduled car working time to finish and modify their designs.

The creativity afforded to the youth in designing their car is I think what made this activity so engaging. My experience with STEM in public schools was mainly worksheets and following a lab project exactly as the instructions said. This activity was a nice change of pace from what STEM usually is in a learning setting.  The Pinewood Derby car project was a chance for the youth to be creative in STEM. There was a balancing act of wanting to create a visually striking car while also designing something aerodynamically sound. The resulting car was an artifact that was a reflection the youth who designed it; it was a culmination of their creativity and weeks’ worth of effort. I made my own pinewood derby car as well and I think I had similar feelings of ownership and wanting to express my creativity. I chose a shape I thought looked aesthetically pleasing and I chose colors that are reflective of my identity as a UW student.

A picture I took that I'm somewhat okay with. I'm already thinking about how it could be better!

A picture I took that I'm somewhat okay with. I'm already thinking about how it could be better!

With the current photography unit we’re facilitating, youth are taking ownership of the project in a similar way. We’re letting them be the masters of their own photos. The photographs they’re taking are reflective of the kind of photos they want to take. As a result, I see the youth engaged with this curriculum. They are keener to learn about photography techniques so that they can take photos exactly how they envision them. I’ve even learned a lot about photography myself just by supporting the youth in taking their photos. I’m excited to apply what I’ve learned about exposure and lighting to future photos I take because my current attempts are very amateurish. I'm sure the youth feel similar. 

- Alexander Giardino