Winnie Karanja has noticed something while helping teach young people about science, technology, engineering and math: These topics are ones that parents, not just students, struggle with.
“Maybe they had lots of bad experiences in their STEM classes, in their science classes and their math classes,” said Karanja, the founder of the educational nonprofit Maydm. “That’s the memory they have to go back to is, it was difficult, and they didn’t get all the help they needed.”
Maydm, a group that strives to teach STEM skills to girls and youth of color through workshops and semester-long programs, is looking to dispel some of that parental anxiety with a holiday workshop this Saturday. “Circuits, Cards and Codes” is meant to get children and parents collaborating on tech-centric activities — specifically, designing LED light-up holiday cards and computer games.
The event will be held from 10 a.m. to noon for first- and second-graders, and from 1:30 p.m. to 3:30 p.m. for third- through fifth-graders, at the Mendota Room of Dejope Residence Hall, 640 Elm Drive, on the University of Wisconsin-Madison campus.
Families who attend the event will be given cards, along with stickers embedded with wafer-thin circuitry and LED lights. The idea is to design a card, and then construct an electrical circuit using the lights and circuit stickers.
A code-your-own adventure activity using the popular programming tool Scratch will also be available for families to try. For both activities, technology professionals from places like Google and American Family Insurance will be on hand to guide participants.
Karanja said the activities are meant to instill some specific concepts, like how circuitry works. But the bigger takeaway she hopes parents and children leave with is that STEM topics are foundations for creativity and artistic pursuits.
“We want younger students to get it, and to get excited, before they get these grounded perceptions of ‘Oh, (tech) is not fun,’” said Karanja. “This way, they have a memory to go back to and say, 'Oh, I had fun at the Circuits, Cards and Code event.'"
Karanja said she believes by bringing parents into the mix, Maydm can help break down barriers for children pursuing STEM.
“We’re focused on the students, but in order for the students to continue with STEM, they need that champion at home,” she said. “If we can break down concepts, and be able to just learn together ... then we’re breaking down those barriers for parents, and they can better support their children.
“We’re trying to make sure parents are like, 'Oh yeah, it’s difficult, but we were able to do this,'” she said.
Karanja founded Maydm in 2015 after working in the tech sector, where she was one of the few women of color in her workplace. The group’s mission is to show girls and other youth of color that STEM fields are places where they belong and can thrive.
She said the nonprofit has been rapidly growing, estimating that the number of children has doubled over the past 12 months to serve about 400 students. It has also expanded its programming to include first- and second-graders for the first time.
Registration for Circuits, Cards and Codes is $20, although there are scholarships available for those who would otherwise have trouble paying.